Trojans start slow, but end strong at Salina

The Hillsboro Trojan volleyball team overcame a tough start to come within a point of advancing to the semifinal round at the Class 3A State Championship in Salina Friday.

When top-seeded Nemaha Valley prevailed 17-15 in the third and deciding game of the final match in pool play, the Trojans’ dream of a championship ended abruptly with a 1-2 record.

The Trojans showed heart to get that close. Playing tentatively and tight in the first state appearance of their careers, coach Collette Burton’s troops opened the tournament with a devastating 0-15 loss to Wellsville, a perennial state participant.

“(Experience is) a big factor when you make it to state,” Burton said. “Wellsville has a tradition of being there and so they know what it’s like. You’re able to handle the pressure better.”

Hillsboro managed only four service opportunities in the first game while the Eagles reeled off strings of five, seven and finally three straight points to end the matter swiftly.

The Trojans began pulling themselves together and took a 3-0 lead in the second game on the serving of Andrea Peachey. Hillsboro still led, 10-9, late in the game, but Wellsville tied the game at 10, then, after swapping sideouts with Hillsboro, finished the game and the match with a string of five straight points and a 15-10 win.

“The girls really looked nervous and so we really struggled through the first match,” Burton said. “I just told them they really needed to focus in on what they were there to do and pick themselves up and not drop their heads. If you drop your head, you’re in trouble.”

Hillsboro took on Frontenac in the second match, and seemed to be slipping back into old patterns. The Raiders scored the first three points in the opening game, but the Trojans came back behind the serving of Peachey and Robyn Penner to take an 7-3 lead.

The Trojans still led 8-4 when the Raiders reeled off the final 11 points over five serve exchanges for a 15-8 win.

Then Hillsboro finally dug in and began to resemble the team that had compiled a 26-6 mark during the season. The Trojans led from the start in Game 2, and went on to take the match with convincing 15-7, 15-4 victories.

“The second match, we picked it up a little bit,” Burton said. “We were passing better and serving a little bit better, too.”

With a spot in the semifinal round on the line, the Trojans played Nemaha Valley tough in their final match in pool play.

Hillsboro jumped to a 4-1 lead in the opening game, but the Raiders from Seneca rallied to take a 14-7 advantage.

Then, with Shannon Kroeker serving, Hillsboro made a late charge with five straight points. But Jill Hein’s spike into the net gave the Raiders the serve and Nemaha Valley made good on the final point for a 15-12 win.

Once again facing elimination with the opening-game loss, Hillsboro battled back for a 15-9 win in the second game. Holly Lindsay served the final four points and Shannon Kroeker nailed the game-point on a kill to give Hillsboro the win.

In the third and deciding game, the Trojans found themselves in an early 0-7 hole. But once again they collected themselves and battled back into contention.

Four straight points with Jill Hein serving eventually tied the game at 13. The two teams traded serves and points until an ace by Kroeker gave the Trojans their first lead at 15-14.

But Hillsboro couldn’t close the deal, giving up the serve and then the final three points of the match on Nemaha Valley’s next possession.

“It was sad that we ended up losing 17-15 that last game,” Burton said. “That was really disappointing, but we also have to look at it that we did play hard and we worked hard at the end. They’re serving improved, their passing improved and they looked tough. That was the way I wanted them to at least finish.”

Despite a 30-for-30 performance by Holly Lindsay and a 10-for-10 showing by Julie Wall coming off the bench, the Trojans were successful on 84.8 percent of their serves during the tournament. They missed missed seven against Wellsville alone.

Hillsboro was also off its game in serve receives (54.4 percent) and sets (81.6 percent).

Hein, a 5-9 senior, was named to the all-tournament team. She was 25-of-28 serving, 35-of-51 in serve receives, 33-of-35 in attack hits, and accumulated nine blocks, nine stuffs and a team-high 21 digs.

Burton said the overall experience of being at state-including her own as coach-was positive.

“It’s just awesome to be able to make it to the state tournament,” she said. “It was great for the girls to see the type of competition that you run into at state, because you don’t get to see that all year long.”

The Trojans ended their season with a 27-8 record.

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