HHS volleyball team has eyes on state tourney berth

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Seven returning letter-winners will form a strong foundation of this year’s Hillsboro volleyball team. Pictured are (from left) Jenny Whisenhunt, Jenesa Klose, Tina Frick, Amanda Bina, JuliAnne Chisholm, Jessica Klose and Amy Neufeld. The Trojans opened their season Saturday by winning the MCAA Preseason Tournament. See Page 16 for a report.

Some years, a team doesn’t need to go through the motions of setting formal goals for a new season-because the biggest one is clear to everyone involved.

This is one of those years for the Hillsboro High School volleyball team.

“You can say ‘go to state’ every year and it ends up not meaning anything,” said Sandy Arnold, starting her third season as coach. “We’re not really focusing on that. We know that’s what we want.”

Led by two seniors who are verbally committed to NCAA Division I programs, plus five additional letter-winners returning from a team that went 25-8 a year ago, the Trojans would appear to have reasonable aspirations.

Fulfillment starts on the front row, which is anchored by those two intimidating seniors, both of whom were unanimous all-league picks in 2005.

JuliAnne Chisholm (5-feet-10), recruited by Kansas State, led the team last year with 199 kills in 524 attempts for a kill percentage of nearly 25 percent. She added 11 solo blocks and 21 assisted blocks, 151 digs and served with 92 percent success.

Tina Frick (6-1), recruited by Wichita State, led the team with 42 solo blocks and 33 assisted blocks. She added 123 kills in 347 attempts for a kill percentage of nearly 16 percent.

“They’re definitely going to be our go-to girls,” Arnold said.

They’ll be joined by fellow senior Jenny Whisenhunt (5-10), who will be the team’s primary setter and will share duties as a right-side hitter.

“That’s a big job because I’m putting her up against the other team’s best hitter,” Arnold said. “She’ll blocking there-and she’ll be sharing setting responsibilities.”

Last year, Whisenhunt was a close second on the team in sets (810) and assists (7.0 per game) behind Laura Lindsay, who was an honorable-mention all-league selection as a senior.

Helping Whisenhunt with setting duties will be Chisholm. It’s a relatively new role to take on in her senior season.

“She’s just athletic enough to do that job,” Arnold said. “She’ll still get to hit her three times on the front row. She’ll set for maybe only two rotations.”

The Trojans’ other veteran outside hitter is junior Amy Neufeld (5-10), who was third on the team last season with 79 kills.

“She’s solid,” Arnold said of Neufeld. “She’s a good hitter on the outside. I’m very confident with her in there. She got a lot of good experience last year.”

Even with strong and experienced players on the front line, Arnold will need to fill a hole created by the graduation of Laura Skiles and the departure of would-be senior Jessica Heidel, who moved away this summer.

“We are missing Jess,” Arnold said. “It’s going to be a big hole to fill. She just did a lot of little things right. That’s something we’re going to have to find because that’s a big responsibility in the middle. There’s a lot of jobs to do there.”

The leading candidates to step in are juniors Chelsea Bebermeyer (5-11) and Corissa Bartel (5-7) and freshman Dakota Kaufman (5-11).

“Right now, it looks like Dakota Kaufman may be playing that middle spot,” Arnold said.

Regardless of who’s on the court, it will take the team some time to adjust to new personnel.

“We’re going to have to get some experience before we get to where we want to go,” she said.

Returning to the back row for serve-receive and passing are three talented, letter-winning juniors: Amanda Bina, Jessica Klose and Jenesa Klose.

“Those defensive specialists do a good job,” Arnold said.

As for team strengths, hitting and blocking top her list.

“They can jump,” Arnold said of her front-row players. “But everything, as usual, will boil down to passing and setting. We can finish the job-we have a lot of girls who can hit the ball. We just need to make sure we get the ball where it needs to be.”

Her seniors are setting the pace for this year’s team.

“I think leadership will be good through both their play and their enthusiasm for the game,” Arnold said.

The varying playing experience of her starters will be a strength and a weakness, Arnold said, depending how long it takes to transition in new players in the middle.

“When it’s the center part of your team, that will be a little bit of a weakness at the beginning.”

The Trojans return as the defending champions of the Eastern Division of the Mid-Central Activities Association, and Arnold feels they have a good chance to repeat this fall.

That outlook was reinforced this weekend when the Trojans won the MCAA Preseason Tournament in Lindsborg. (See report Page 16.) Hoisington placed second, Sterling third and Haven fourth in the 12-team field.

Even with the encouraging showing, Arnold knows league play will not be a cakewalk.

“Everybody will bring their best against us,” she said. “It won’t matter who we’re playing, we’ll have to be ready to go. I would hope we’d be at the top of the league. We have the talent to be there.”

To that natural talent Arnold has added hard work in practice, which started with “Midnight Madness” at 12:01 p.m. Aug. 14, the first day organized practice was allowed.

“I’ve probably worked this team harder than I’ve worked any team since I started coaching,” Arnold said. “Physically, we’re going to be ready from the get-go. I don’t want anybody tired. I want them to be ready to play five matches (in a tournament) if we have to.

“I hope they understand that’s how much I expect,” she added. “I expect a lot from them, but at the same time I don’t want to put so much pressure on them because I want them to have a good time. When you’re playing volleyball like they can, it’s fun.

“We’re going to play some fun volleyball,” she added. “I hope it’s going to be fast and action packed. And I hope their excitement will carry into the crowd and that they’ll be proud to be playing volleyball for Hillsboro.

“I’m proud to be coaching at Hillsboro High School.”

On the heels of the league preseason tournament, HHS was scheduled for a quadrangular with Claflin, Goessel and host team Lyons on Tuesday.

This coming Tuesday, Hillsboro will travel to Haven for a triangular with the host team and Halstead. Matches begin at 5 p.m.

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