ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro High School volleyball team fulfilled its pre-tournament seeding with a third-place finish at the Hillsboro Trojan Invitational at Brown Gymnasium on Saturday.
Conway Springs, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, prevailed as the tournament champions without losing a game all day, much less a match.
But few things came easy for the hometown Trojans, who went the full three games against three of the five teams they faced.
None of those matches were more dramatic and demanding than the day’s pool-play opener against their intra-county rivals from Marion. Hillsboro eventually won, 19-25, 25-22, 27-25, but it turned into a classic battle.
The Warriors indicated they weren’t going to be intimidated by their three losses to the Trojans earlier this season by jumping to a 5-1 lead in the opening game.
Hillsboro regained the lead at 7-5 on a rally point and a 5-0 serving run by Jessica Klose. Marion then rallied to take a 17-12 advantage. Hillsboro came as close at 15-18, but Marion held off the Trojans for the 25-19 win.
In Game 2, Hillsboro jumped to a 7-1 lead behind Klose’s serving, but Marion came back to tie the game at 17, then took a 21-18 lead on a service ace by Megan Hudson.
Following a timeout, Hillsboro rallied for four straight points to lead 22-21. After a Marion timeout, the Warriors responded with the tying point. But Hillsboro got two kills from Tina Frick before a mis-hit by Kari Tajchman gave Hillsboro a 25-22 victory.
In the rubber match, the Warriors built an early 9-5 lead behind the serving of Emalee Versch, and still led 14-11 midway through.
Once again, Klose, who made 25 of 26 serves during the match and 70 of 75 for the day, sparked a Trojan rally. A 6-0 run gave Hillsboro a 17-14 lead.
But Marion would not quit, and when the Warriors successfully blocked a Trojan hit late in the game, they pulled to within one point of victory at 24-21.
Two kills by Frick fueled a critical 3-0 Trojan rally to tie the game at 24. The two teams battled into overtime before Hillsboro pieced together one last 3-0 run to win the game, 27-25, and the match 2-1.
“I don’t like to play them four times (a season) because they bring their best every time,” Trojan coach Sandy Arnold said of the narrow escape. “We knew in the back of our minds that if we don’t win that match, then we probably wouldn’t get out of pool play.
“I tried to keep them focused. I tried not let their minds wonder ahead to the rest of the day.
“I thought Marion played very well,” Arnold said. “I was impressed. I’m not going to take anything away from them.”
The opening match did prove to be critical for both teams. Marion’s loss seemed to take the wind out of their sails. The Warriors, seeded sixth, went on to lose to No. 2 seeded Hoisington, 9-25, 13-25, and then to seventh-seeded Herington, 13-25, 25-17, 21-25, for an 0-3 record and an early end to their day.
Hillsboro, meanwhile, took care of Herington, 25-17, 25-21, to bring a 2-0 record into its pool match with 2-0 Hoisington. The pairing also was an unofficial showdown between the champs of the two MCAA divisions.
The play was of championship caliber, but Hoisington prevailed in a three-gamer, 25-16, 15-25, 25-19.
Although the loss meant her team would have to face powerful Conway Springs in the semifinals instead of the finals, Arnold did see a silver lining in the loss to Hoisington.
“I was disappointed in the outcome, but I’m glad we got a look at Hoisington because I think the girls now realize we can beat them,” Arnold said. “That was the big talk, with Hoisington being at our sub-state. We physically saw them and realized, ‘Yes, we can.'”
Hillsboro started well in both games against Conway, but double-digit runs in both games enabled the Cardinals to pull away down the home stretch of both games, 25-11, 25-15.
“We played so well during the first half of each game,” Arnold said. “We just couldn’t stay withthem.”
The Trojans ended their long day with a three-game victory over fourth-seeded Minneapolis, 23-25, 25-21, 25-15, in the third-place match.
“Fatigue was setting in at that point-and Minneapolis was tired, too. You could tell,” Arnold said. “I said, ‘It’s just going to be a mind game, girls.’ I just kept begging them to dig deeper. And they did.”
Coming-The Trojans’ 3-2 record for the day gave Hillsboro a 23-7 record as the Trojans prepare for Saturday’s sub-state tournament at Hoisington.
Marion (12-14) will join a challenging eight-team field that will also include Ellinwood, Ellsworth, Halstead, Hesston and Lyons.