ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Pre-tournament seeding didn’t mean a lot at this year’s Hillsboro Trojan Invitational Volleyball Tournament.
Fourth-seeded Conway Springs, who came in with a 17-4 record, proved on this day to be head and shoulders above the competition. The Cardinals never lost a game all day and beat Hillsboro convincingly in the championship match, 15-8, 15-6.
Meanwhile, top-seeded Ellinwood, who came into the tournament with a glistening 18-1 mark, did not survive pool play. The Eagles beat winless Halstead but lost to Sterling and Conway Springs.
Even though the Trojans finished one place higher than their third seed, they were upset in their opening round of pool play by sixth-seeded Marion, 17-19, 15-1, 4-15.
“The girls didn’t seem ready to play,” Trojan coach Collette Burton said about her team. “They weren’t real focused on the game.”
Even with the loss, the Trojans finished in a three-way tie for the top spot in Pool B by beating seventh-seeded Herington, 15-12, 15-12, and second-seeded Minneapolis, 15-12, 15-6.
Hillsboro was picked as the Pool B winner based first on the number of defensive points the Trojans gave up and then by virtue of its head-to-head match with Minneapolis.
Hillsboro earned a berth in the title match by beating MCAA rival Sterling, the second-place finisher in Pool A, 15-8, 4-15, 15-11.
The Trojans took control of the match in the third game. After the Black Bears scored the first point, Hillsboro went on a 12-0 run behind the serving of Robyn Penner and Jenna Jost.
Sterling crawled back in on a 7-1 run of its own, but Hillsboro finally managed to close out the match after several serve changes.
In the title match, the Trojans initially seemed intimidated by Conway Springs and their leading player, Taylor Lawrence, a 6-0 junior standout.
“She’s a great hitter and server,” Burton said. “But once our blockers started to get their hands on the ball a little bit on the blocks and slowing it down, we were ready to play.
“Conway Springs has been good the past couple of years and they’re really good again this year,” she added. “I think we should be able to stay with them, but we decided to start playing halfway through the game instead of at the beginning and that’s what put us behind every time.”
For the day, Hillsboro (23-6) was a little off their season form in all categories. Serve-receives was the biggest nemesis, with a success rate of only 71 percent-7 points lower than their season average.
The Trojans made good on just under 88 percent of their serves. Jost was the top performer for Hillsboro, making good on 55 of 56 attempts (98.2 percent), while Holly Lindsay was 44-of-45 (97.8 percent).
Sara Thiessen came off the bench and contributed an outstanding tournament, leading the Trojans in kills with 19 and was good on 61 of 74 attack attempts (82.4 percent). Defensively she added 21 blocks, including six stuffs.
“She’s one player who was focused all day long,” Burton said. “She really looked like she wanted to be on the court playing and she did a great job.”
Shannon Kroeker led the team with 34 blocks. Jill Hein registered 32, including a team-high 15 stuffs. Hein also led the team in digs with 55 and Andrea Peachey added 52.
Kroeker was good on 154 of 167 set attempts (92.2 percent) and Lindsay was 177 of 197 (89.8 percent).
“I was proud of the girls, the way they finished up,” Burton said. “The first half of the day we started out really slow and then they finally picked it up.”
Lyons-The Trojans won their last dual matches of the season with a pair of 2-0 wins over the Lions last Tuesday in Brown Gymnasium.
Hillsboro (20-4) was in top form in the first match, winning in dominant fashion, 15-4, 15-5.
The Trojans’ intensity dropped a notch in the second match but Hillsboro came away with a 15-8, 15-11 sweep.
Hillsboro’s serving was on the mark all night as the Trojans registered a season-high 94.5 percent success rate. Shannon Kroeker was credited with a perfect 18-for-18 for the night, including two successful jump serves in the first match.
The Trojans returned 41 of 50 serves successfully, including 11-of-11 by Jenna Jost.
Holly Lindsay was successful on 40 of 41 set attempts with 10 assists while Kroeker was 37 of 39 with four assists.
Robyn Penner led HHS in kills with eight and was good on 20-of-22 spike attempts.
Jill Hein and Shelby Estelle led the team in blocks with five and four, respectively.
Coming-The Trojans will make their bid for a state tournament bid when they travel to Hesston Saturday for regional play. They will be joined by Ellinwood, Southeast of Saline, Halstead, Hesston, Hoisington, Lyons and Marion.
“Ellinwood and Hesston should be good matches,” Burton said. “We’ve played them this year and they’ve been tough matches both times. I’ve heard Hoisington is a pretty good team again this year, but I don’t know a lot about them.”
Matches in the single-elimination format begin at 1 p.m.