ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF & TOM STOPPEL
In a championship-bracket tournament, when you lose matters almost as much as if you lose.
The Hillsboro Trojan volleyball team found that out the hard way Saturday when it came home from the Mid-Central Activities Association Preseason Tournament in Hoisington with a sparkling 4-1 record-but only a fifth-place finish to show for it.
The Trojans claimed fifth when they defeated the Marion Warriors (2-3) in their second matchup of the day, 25-17, 25-19.
The host team, Hoisington, won the tournament championship by beating Hesston in the finals after defeating Marion in the first round of bracket play and Sterling in the semifinals.
Sterling placed third by beating Ellinwood in the consolation match.
Hillsboro and Marion started the day like they ended it-playing each other. This time it was the opening match of their three-team pool play prior to bracket play.
The Trojans won in three games, 25-21, 23-25, 25-13.
Both squads easily defeated their other pool mate, Wichita Collegiate. Hillsboro won 25-13, 25-11 while Marion took a 25-10, 25-22 victory.
The Spartans, thought to be a preseason contender, looked like anything but one. Trojan coach Sandy Arnold said three of Collegiate’s key players are not playing this year-one because of injury and two by choice.
As the top two teams in their pool with 2-0 and 1-1 records, respectively, Hillsboro and Marion advanced to bracket play-and both lost in the first round.
Marion fell to the eventual champions, 12-25, 20-25, while Hillsboro dropped a frustrating 13-25, 25-22, 23-25 decision to Ellinwood.
“We fell apart,” Arnold said of the match. “I’m just guessing, but I bet we gave them close to 15 points on serves and hitting the ball out of bounds or in the net. I don’t think they really hit at us that much and put it down.”
In the climactic third game, Hillsboro fell behind, 0-6, and later, 16-22, then rallied to 23-24 before serving the ball into the net to give Ellinwood the game and match point.
In consolation play, Hillsboro came back to beat Lyons, 25-13, 25-20, and Marion defeated Smoky Valley, 25-27, 25-21, 25-12 before taking on each other for fifth place.
Both coaches, Arnold for Hillsboro and Kara Chisholm for Marion, were relatively pleased with their teams’ play and felt like they learned a lot.
“When we are confident and we pass the ball, and are offensive-minded and attack people, we’re going to be good,” Arnold said about her Trojans. “But when we start playing safe and worry about making mistakes, then we’re not so good.
“We have a lot of work to do. Our passing, that’s never-ending. But we have some work to do in our setting, and it’s mostly because the two I have setting haven’t been at it for a while. Experience-wise, we need to get them more reps on the ball.
“Overall, I was pleased-in some ways,” she added. “The way we came back at the end was good. To play Marion twice and to beat them in two (games in the second match) was good for us because we always seem to have a letdown when we play them. We talked about being not just physically tough, but mentally tough.”
Chisholm said she was “very satisfied” with how her Warriors played.
“I could really see how nervous they were in our first match,” she said of her players. “I don’t know if that’s because it was our first game of the season. My sophomores were scared to death.
“But by the end of the day, they all looked a lot more comfortable,” Chisholm added. “It was hard playing Hillsboro twice, but I was pleased with how we played.
“I think our main strength was how scrappy we were. We could pick up balls that probably shouldn’t have been dug.”
Chisholm said her team is upbeat after the weekend.
“They’re ready to get down to business and improve,” she said. “I guess we’re kind of relieved, seeing the competition, because we know we’re not far off from them. The matches we lost were to teams that went to state last year.”
Arnold said she was glad to come away with a 4-1 mark at the preseason tournament.
“We learned a lot about ourselves, too,” she said. “That was the main thing and also the best thing because when I go to that tournament, I’m thinking, ‘Holy cow, this is too early to be playing; we’re not ready.’
“I always hope the other teams aren’t ready, either.”
Hillsboro was back in action Tuesday, Aug. 31, traveling to Lyons for a quadrangular with the host team, Goessel and Claflin. The Trojans will travel to Halstead Sept. 6 to play the Dragons and Haven Wildcats beginning at 5 p.m.
Marion, meanwhile, will compete again Sept. 6 when the Warriors play host to a quadrangular that starts at 5 p.m.