Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 30 October 2012 14:49
Multiple players stepped up to make key contributions Friday and Saturday that helped Hillsboro to the state volleyball championship. From top: Freshman Alex Ratzlaff tips the ball past Emily Strawn of Wellsville for a point on Friday; junior Addie Lackey serves up an ace against Wellsville; Tena Loewen hustles to tip the ball past the Silver Lake front line during a key three-game match in pool play.
It was time to quit thinking and simply get it done.
The Hillsboro volleyball team accomplished the difficult goal of winning back-to-back Class 3A titles Saturday afternoon with a two-game sweep of No. 1 seeded Garden Plain in the finals.
Adopting the theme “Rethink Possible” at the start of the season, the Trojans accomplished the possible by going 5-0 for the second straight year in Salina’s Bicentennial Center and making school history in the process.
In addition to claiming back-to-back state titles for the first time ever, the Trojans also set a school record for wins in a season with a 42-3 final record.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is just to get to state, let alone to win it, and then win it again,” said coach Sandy Arnold, who has taken a team to state in seven of her nine years at the helm. “I’m not sure this has totally sunk in.”
Hillsboro outlasted the Owls in Game 1 of the finals, 25-21, then took firm control of its destiny with a 25-16 victory in Game 2.
“I think we all knew this (Garden Plain) team was beatable,” said Trojan senior Tena Loewen, last year’s Class 3A Player of the Year and a strong candidate to repeat this year.
“Beforehand, we had talked about that it would be a battle. If we played our side of the court, we would be fine, and if we gave it our best we would be happy with that.”
Hillsboro had set itself up for that opportunity Friday by going 3-0 in pool play to qualify for the final-four championship bracket.
Facing Southeast of Saline in Saturday’s semifinals, Hillsboro looked to be at the top of its game, dominating the first set, 25-12.
But Southeast turned the tables in Game 2, leading by as much 21-13 before Hillsboro rallied to close the gap to 23-22. Southeast then won the final two points to claim the 25-22 win.
“Even while we were winning that first game, I just didn’t have a very good feeling in my stomach,” Arnold said. “The first game was too easy. The second game we just passed awful again, and that just affects everything you do.
“I?do think the run we made at the end of that game may have worn on Southeast a little bit. I think it helped us with momentum going into the third game.”
In that rubber game, Hillsboro took charge once more, leading from start to finish on the way to a 25-16 win and a berth in the finals against Garden Plain.
Once there, the Trojans suffered no letdown against a team that had equaled their 37-3 record coming into the tournament.
Game 1 was tight from start to finish, with neither team leading by more than two points until Hillsboro pushed the margin to 19-15 near the end.
Garden Plain had fought back to within 21-20 when Tena Loewen nailed two kills and Addie Lackey added one to bring HHS to the brink of victory at 24-20.
After a missed serve narrowed the lead to three, Garden Plain was called for a lift hit as the Trojans nailed down the 25-21 win.
Game 2 appeared to be following a similar theme as Game 2 against Southeast of Saline, as the Owls took an early 3-1 lead. But the Trojans regrouped quickly, grabbed the lead at 5-4 and never trailed again on the way to a relatively comfortable 25-16 win and a championship celebration.
“We were really blessed with an athletic set of girls this year,” Loewen said. “The key was that each girl knew their role and filled it well. We had a lot of people step up at different moments.”
Hillsboro positioned itself to make a final assault on the state championship by sweeping all three of its pool-play matches Friday.
The No. 2 seeded Trojans, who came into the tournament 37-3, defeated No. 7 Wellsville (25-15) in the opening match, 25-13, 25-21.
Then, in its most challenging encounter of the day, Hillsboro needed three games to defeat a strong Silver Lake (No. 6, 29-8) squad, 25-23, 15-25, 25-20.
“I knew Friday that Silver Lake was probably going to be our toughest competition in pool play because they had lost to a lot of 6A schools, and I had heard a lot of things about their big girl (6-0 sophomore Alyssa Schultejans).”
“The second game was probably why I was a little worried going into the tournament,” she added. “We knew we had those occasional mental lapses. I don’t really know why that happens, but we had all seen it before.
“I knew if we played our game and passed well, that we could attack and play with anybody.”
The Trojans finished pool play with their easiest match of the tournament, a 25-10, 25-7 sweep of Southeast-Cherokee, who finished 0-3.
“In pool play, it was pretty important to us to go 3-0 because we wanted to give ourselves the best opportunity the next day,” Arnold said. “I was really proud of my girls because they played their game throughout that whole match.”
Arnold said the team borrowed the “Rethink Possible” theme from an AT&T commercial, but they embraced its challenge.
“We talked about it the first night of practice,” Arnold said “I’m sure it was the furthest thing from their mind to think we could do this again—but in all honesty, we could do this again. It’s just going to be harder than it’s ever been because we’ve got this big target.”
Arnold said her team’s talent was never in question. All it needed was the mental toughness to push through the challenges that inevitably arise.
“I feel very lucky to be part of a program with such talented kids—and kids who are willing to be coached and buy in and do the extra things to get where they need to be,” she said.
“I’ve been totally blessed with that, and with coaches who put in the extra time and listen to me groan and moan and share my excitement all at the same time.
“Collette (Hazlett) and Jill (Hein) are amazing. They are different, but they both bring something special to the team and the girls love them. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Loewen, junior libero Danae Bina and freshman outside hitter Alex Ratzlaff were named to the all-tournament first team.
“I thought all three of my big hitters hit extremely well, from Addie to Tena to Alex. I was very pleased with that,” Arnold said.
“I truly believe the experience of Tena and Danae and some of the others really pulled us through this weekend,” she added.
“The mentality and work ethic of the girls who have been there before is really what pulled us through.”