The Hillsboro volleyball team hit a couple of bumps along the way, but otherwise followed a smooth path to the Central Kansas League preseason tournament title Saturday at Halstead with a 6-0 record.
The only two games the defending Class 3A champions lost all day came against Hesston.
The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in 3A by the Kansas Volleyball Association, came out of the gate a little jittery in their opening match, losing in pool play to the Swathers, 25-20. But Hillsboro regrouped to claim 25-21 and 25-20 victories in the next two games.
Coach Sandy Arnold said she counted five missed serves, five hits out of bounds and five net calls in that first game. But she was pleased with how her players responded.
“They settled down and took care of the things they needed to do,” she said.
Hillsboro faced the Swathers again at the end of the day for the tournament championship. The Trojans won the first game, 25-13, then lost Game 2, 25-15, before bouncing back to win the third and final game, 25-21.
“In the second game against Hesston I think we thought we had (the title) wrapped up,” Arnold said. “There was definitely a mental relaxation that we couldn’t afford. I mean, we were bad—we couldn’t pass and if we got the pass we couldn’t finish. We just struggled a lot.
“Those are growing pains,” she added. “I’ve got to give us credit—we didn’t fold.”
Path to the title
Hillsboro completed pool play with wins over Kingman (25-9, 25-10), Halstead (25-14, 25-16) and Nickerson (25-10, 25-7).
“Against Kingman and Nickerson, we rotated some different people in and got them some experience, so that was good,” Arnold said.
Halstead was missing a key player because of injury.
“I don’t like to play teams without their best kids because then we don’t really get their best shot,” Arnold said. “But they have a nice squad.
“Last year we beat them pretty badly at the beginning of the year, but they came back gung-ho at the end. I would expect them to improve a great deal.”
In the championship semifinals, Hillsboro defeated Pratt, the league’s defending champion, 25-22, 25-17. The Greenbacks, runners-up in the other five-team pool, lost three key players from last year’s team.
“Pratt’s down a little bit, but the one thing I know about their coach is he gets everything out of those girls he can, and they are scrappy,” Arnold said. “They’re not going to let much hit the floor.
“I think the girls were kind of frustrated because they picked up everything. But we have to be creative. That’s one of the things we’re going to have to work on.”
The tournament marked the competitive debut of Hillsboro’s senior standout, Tena Loewen, following knee surgery last winter. The Class 3A Player of the Year was in good form, according to her coach.
“If she’s not quite 100 percent physically ready, she’s 100 percent mentally ready,” Arnold said. “What she may have lacked physically Saturday she made up for tremendously with her knowledge of the game.
“I think her biggest (physical) thing is she can’t jump as high as she did. That will come, but right now that’s kind of hard for her. But she did get up on some plays and put some balls down.”
Arnold also praised senior Maci Schlehuber for her performance as the Trojans’ new primary setter.
“Maci did a good job of mixing up the attacks,” she said. “For her first time setting in a long time, I thought she did a great job—and did a great job with leading.”
The tournament marked the high school debut of two 5-foot-9-inch freshman starters, Alex Ratzlaff and Shannon Heiser.
“They both did well for their first time in high school,” Arnold said. “I told them both, ‘Just enjoy these girls because you have great players surrounding you. Do your part and it could be a good year.’”
The two freshmen add talent and depth to a roster that already has a lot.
“I had subs who came off the bench and did fantastic and filled their spot,” Arnold said. “It’s tough competition in our gym right now. I have girls who could start on other teams, but there are so many here right now on one team that it’s been tough.”
Coming—The Trojans will make their home-court debut Thursday with a quadrangular that involves Southeast of Saline, Marion and Moundridge. Matches begin at 5 p.m.
Next Tuesday the Trojans travel to Hesston for a triangular that includes Douglass, a 2011 state qualifier.