The Knights, who came in as the No. 1 seed at 34-3, more than validated their ranking by thumping a No. 3 seeded Trojan squad that looked to be at the top of its game through the first two rounds.
Hillsboro’s excellent season ended in stunning fashion: 8-25, 14-25.
“I think they’re good, no doubt about that,” coach Sandy Arnold said of Sacred Heart. “I don’t think we ran out of gas physically; we may have run out of gas emotionally.
“We were so pumped and hyped after beating Hoisington,” she added. “I don’t know if it took it all out of us or what. If I knew the answer to that, I’d be a rich coach somewhere.”
The Trojans appeared out of sync from the start of the championship match, falling behind 0-4 in Game 1. They climbed back to within 2-4, but an 8-0 serving run by the Knights’ Alicia Wilkins all but pulled the plug on the Trojans’ hope for full recovery.
Game 2 offered a new start. Instead, it followed a similar theme—an early 1-4 hole for HHS. By the time Arnold called a timeout, it had grown to 3-11.
Making uncharacteristic mental errors, Hillsboro blew two serves during that early stretch while Sacred Heart landed three aces.
The Trojans never made a serious run after the timeout.
“I really thought we had a chance—at least to give them a good game,” Arnold said. “I think that was the hardest part for the girls, too. We didn’t even give them a close contest.”
The disappointing ending overshadowed an outstanding start by the Trojans, who pounded Ellinwood, the No. 6 seed, 25-13, 25-11, in the opening round.
So dominant was HHS that when the score stood at 19-7 in Game 1, the Eagles (11-25) had scored only two points on their own merit. The other five points came from Hillsboro serving errors.
Game 2 was a closer battle, with Ellinwood hanging as close as 13-10 before Hillsboro stepped it up with a 12-1 run to victory behind the serving of Bobbi Jo Carlson.
The commanding win set up a pivotal match with Hoisington, the only team in the Mid-Central Activities Association that Hillsboro did not defeat on the way to winning the league title with a 10-1 record.
Hillsboro never trailed in Game 1 even though the Cardinals were never more than five points behind and drew as close as 22-19 before the Trojans nailed down the 25-20 win.
Game 2 was even closer, with the margin never exceeding two points until Hillsboro rallied from a 15-16 deficit to take a 19-16 lead. Amy Neufeld’s push shot along the net wrapped up the 25-20 victory and a berth in the finals.
“We knew what we needed to do to beat them,” Arnold said. “I don’t know if it was a confidence factor that finally came through, or if Hoisington was down because of their losses (late in the regular season), or a combination of both.
“We really came out strong. Our blocking was a lot more consistent than it was the first two matches. I think we frustrated them—our hitting was on and they couldn’t pick us up.”
The Trojans ended the season with a 31-6 mark—the third time in Arnold’s four years as coach that HHS has won at least 25 matches in a season and the second straight year the team has exceeded 30.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” she said. “I think they exceeded a lot of expectations this year, and they really have a lot to be proud of.
“This group of seniors did a great job leading us, and they were one of the best groups about accepting roles,” she added. “They knew what their position was on the court. They didn’t complain, they just did their job. It was good teamwork.
“I’ll miss them as kids as well as players. They’re just good kids.”
Collegiate quadrangular—While Hillsboro was wrapping up its regular season schedule Oct. 16 at a Wichita Collegiate quadrangular with league wins over Sterling (25-18, 25-13), Ellinwood (26-24, 25-11) and Collegiate (26-16, 25-20), it unknowingly was about to receive an early Christmas gift from some 50 miles down the road at Nickerson.
The host Panthers and the Hesston Swathers both defeated Hoisington that night to hand the Trojans the MCAA title.
Hoisington had started the evening with an 8-0 league mark while the Trojans were sitting in second place at 7-1.
Coach Sandy Arnold found out about the title when a Hutchinson News reporter who had covered the action in Nickerson called to ask if Hillsboro had won its matches that night.
When Arnold said yes, the reporter told her, “Well, then it looks like you wrapped up the league title.”
“I said, ‘Whoa—what’? And he said, ‘Haven’t you heard? Hoisington dropped two tonight.’”
Arnold was incredulous.
“People won’t believe this, but I had put league out of my mind because all I was concerned about was Saturday (sub-state),” she said. “The only thing the girls and I had talked about was that we knew if anybody could beat Hoisington, it was those teams that were there that night.
“But we were only thinking was how it would affect Saturday for them—and it did,” she said. The Cardinals dropped from being the No. 1 seed at sub-state to being No. 2.
“So when I got the call (about the league title) it was like, ‘Holy cow, that’s like a bonus.’”
Arnold said she was quick to telephone her players with the news.
“They started texting each other, and it was kind of wild. It was amazing.”