ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF & TOM STOPPEL
A quick turnaround and a vastly improved Lyons team combined to block the Hillsboro High School volleyball team’s bid for a second straight state tournament appearance Saturday at the Hoisington sub-state tournament.
After making it to the finals with a hard-fought, three-game win over Ellsworth in the semifinals, the Trojans faced a well-rested Lyons squad that had knocked off No. 1 seeded and fourth-ranked Hoisington in the other semifinals matchup.
The result was a commanding 25-15, 25-20 victory by Lyons, which came into the tournament as the No. 4 seed at 19-9. Hillsboro had defeated Lyons early in the season in straight games.
“It didn’t help that we had to play back-to-back and they got a match off, but that’s the breaks of being a third seed coming up from the bottom,” Trojan coach Sandy Arnold said. “I think we were tired.”
Led by eight powerful kills from their standout senior, Kylie Loesch, the Lions rolled to the comfortable Game 1 victory. Hillsboro enjoyed a lead only once at 3-2 while the Lions led by as much as 20-7.
In Game 2, the Trojans scored the first point, but a 4-0 run by Lyons launched a surge that grew as large as 21-10.
Hillsboro managed a 6-0 run behind the serving of JuliAnne Chisholm to pull within five points. Twice the Trojans were within four points during the late stages but a kill by Lyons’ Nicole Kratzer ended the game and the Trojans’ season.
“I thought Lyons played very well all day,” Arnold said about a team that come on strong at the end of the season. “I picked them at the beginning of the year as a preseason favorite because I knew they had Loesch coming back.
“She is very good, very smart and very skilled,” Arnold added. “We even tried to cheat on her, but she could go the other way. She knew exactly what to do. And what a quick arm swing.”
The Trojans got to the finals by taking care of rival Hesston in the opening round, 28-26, 25-18, and then knocking of No. 2 seeded Ellsworth in the semifinals, 25-22, 11-25, 28-26.
In the dramatic first game against Hesston, Hillsboro led 12-11 when the Swathers went on an 8-1 run to lead 19-13. A block point by Tina Frick, a kill by Chisholm and a service ace from Laura Lindsay pulled Hillsboro back to within three, 19-16.
The two teams traded points before a kill by Jenny Whisenhunt launched a critical 4-0 run that tied the game at 21. Chisholm contributed two kills to that rally.
Hesston won three of the next four points to move within a point of victory at 24-22. But a Chisholm kill, a hitting error by Hesston and a kill by Jessica Heidel put the Trojans on the verge of victory at 25-24.
The two teams then traded points before Tina Frick nailed back-to-back kills to give Hillsboro its 28-26 victory.
In Game 2, a 10-1 run behind the serving of Whisenhunt, who had two aces, and Chisholm, who had one ace, created a 14-7 advantage that the Trojans would not relinquish.
A 6-0 Hesston run cut the lead to 18-15, but the Trojans rallied for a match-ending 7-2 surge down the home stretch.
“I knew that first round would be a survival test-it always is,” Arnold said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, as a higher seed you’re always hunted. It was nice to get through that.
“I don’t like playing a team four times (in a season),” she added. “And Hesston’s a rival, too.”
Ellsworth and Hillsboro entered the semifinals match with identical 24-7 records-and the two teams proved to be well matched.
Hillsboro jumped to a 7-2 lead in Game 1, but Ellsworth rallied to take a 10-9 lead. With the Bearcats leading 17-16, a kill by Frick launched a pivotal 8-2 Trojan surge that carried them to a 25-22 win.
Hillsboro appeared to take a rest break in Game 2. The Bearcats took advantage of a string of unforced Trojan errors to build an early 12-2 lead.
When Ellsworth built its lead to 17-5, the Trojans responded with a 5-2 rally that cut the margin to nine points. But the Bearcats stopped the bleeding and finished with a 25-11 blowout.
“I couldn’t tell you what happened in the second game,” Arnold said. “I just don’t know.”
The Trojans’ competitive spirit returned in Game 3 with Hillsboro taking an early 13-5 lead. Ellsworth battled back to a 20-20 tie and eventually took the Trojans to the brink of elimination at 22-24.
A hitting error and a net call that went against Ellsworth pulled Hillsboro even at 24. The two teams then traded points until the Bearcats were one point from victory at 26-25.
But a kill by Frick, a service ace from Lindsay and a kill from sophomore Amy Neufeld gave the Trojan a physically and emotionally draining 28-26 victory.
“I was very pleased with that match,” Arnold said. “I’d been begging the kids all year to beat a high-quality team like that-not just play them close, but beat them. I thought that was the one hump we got over. Unfortunately, we had to face another one back-to-back.
“I thought we did a lot of things well,” she added. “I thought we hit the ball, we found their holes, we served the ball pretty well. I thought we hit the ball hard and made them move around.
“And we blocked. I don’t think they were used to being blocked a lot. That was fun.”
Although the team goal was to reach state, Arnold said she was glad to reach the sub-state finals.
“I thought we played hard to get there,” she said. “It was unfortunate that we had such quality teams at sub-state. It was packed.
“That’s what was so frustrating for the girls,” she added. “They wanted to get back to state knowing they had gone through a tough place to get there-just to prove that we could do it. So that was a little disappointing.”
Arnold said the graduation of seniors Laura Lindsay, Laura Skiles and Emily Bebermeyer will create a void in her team, but the second-year coach will have considerable talent returning next season.
“We learned a lot,” she said. “We learned that we’re going to have to be more consistent throughout the year to get over the hump against those big teams. Out of our eight losses, five of those teams went to state.
“I’ve got a lot of youngsters in for next year-that will help,” she said. “I wish I could start next season today because I’m ready.”
Marion vs. Ellsworth
Ellsworth made it to the sub-state semifinals by ending Marion’s season in the opening round with a 25-19, 25-12 victory.
The Warriors started strong, surging to a 9-4 lead in Game 1. Following an Ellsworth timeout, the Bearcats pieced together five straight points to tie the game.
Marion regained the lead on a service error, but the Bearcats came back to take the next five points for a 14-10 advantage.
The two teams traded points through the middle of the match. But with Marion within one at 19-20, Ellsworth finished with a 5-0 run to nail down the win.
The loss seemed to deflate the Warriors for Game 2. Ellsworth raced to a 10-2 lead, never looked back and led by as much as 24-9.
A 3-0 Marion rally put the Warriors in double digits before Ellsworth nailed down the 22-15 win.
“The girls played very well the first game,” coach Kara Chisholm said. “We switched things up and ran a 6-2 (offense) and that worked well in the first game.
“The second game, we had a little bit of a problem-we just didn’t gel very well. Ellsworth is a very good team, there’s no denying that.”
With the loss, the Warrior girls finished their season with a 13-17 record.
“Overall, I’m satisfied with how we did,” Chisholm said of the season. “You always want to do better, but hindsight is 20/20. The majority of the girls had a good season.
“We lose four seniors off this team,” she added, referring to Megan Hudson, Allie Maddox, Emalee Versch and Toni Gordon. “They did what was needed at times, but we just weren’t consistent.
“It’s a little bit early to look to next year, but we had a lot of fun this year.”