Filling holes key for HHS volleyball aspirations

These returning letter-winners and seniors will help fuel Hillsboro?s state volleyball aspirations following a 39-5 record and a Class 3A runner-up trophy in 2014. From left are Alex Ratzlaff, senior transfer Tas Sanchez, Rebecca Kaufman, Abby Sechrist, Shannon Heiser and Marah Franz. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

With two all-state hitters returning and a program pedigree that includes seven consecutive state tournament appearances and three state titles in the past four years, it should be no surprise that the Hillsboro Trojans are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A for the coming season.

But Sandy Arnold, in her 12th season as head coach, makes a convincing case why her squad shouldn?t be in the No. 1 spot?at least right now.

Make no mistake, Arnold is thrilled to welcome back her all-state seniors, outside hitter Alex Ratzlaff (5 feet, 9 inches) and middle blocker Shannon Heiser (5-9).

?They?re obviously two excellent players because they both received state honors last year, very deservingly,? Arnold said. ?They both play in the off-season, they both have been playing since they were little and they both have a passion for it.

?If you?re going to build a team around something, that?s a good place to start.?

But this year Arnold is more concerned than usual about the supporting cast surrounding her two standouts.

?We lost six players who really knew their role, had played a lot of volleyball and very much supported Alex and Shannon?s physical abilities,? she said. ?They were also very good leaders on the court.

?We have a lot of holes to fill. Shannon and Alex are really going to have to bring the others along to get them to where we want them to be. It?s not that it can?t be done, but these girls don?t have a lot of experience on the varsity court.?

Other letter-winners

Hillsboro has only two other returning letter-winners: sophomore Abby Sechrist (5-9) and junior Rebecca Kaufman (5-9).

?Abby and Rebecca played last year, but they definitely were filling a smaller role,? Arnold said. ?Now, those two are going to have to step it up a little bit and more will be expected of them.

?Beyond that, we haven?t made final (lineup) decisions yet.?

Sechrist joins Ratzlaff and Heiser on the front line.

?Her strength is her blocking, although her hitting is coming along,? Arnold said. ?I?d really like to see that continue to progress because anything we can get from other girls is going to be a bonus when we start playing some of those tougher teams.?

Kaufman, meanwhile, is the leading candidate to be the team?s setter. This will be the fourth consecutive season the Trojans will break in a new setter, but Arnold said this year the transition could be more challenging.

?All the years past when I?ve brought up a new setter, they had at least played the position on JV, C team or all the way through,? Arnold said. ?But Becca?s kind of jumping into a new spot, having to be the quarterback of the team.?

A second candidate is sophomore Taylor Helmer (5-7).

?Taylor is another one who has great hands,? Arnold said. ?She?s been a setter since middle school, and she plays some club, so she?s played that position a lot, but she doesn?t have the varsity experience?and we?re working with her on some defense and all the things you have to do as a setter.?

More new faces

Defensively, senior Marah Franz (5-4) and junior Savan?nah Unruh (5-6) will make their contribution on the back row.

?I don?t know that I would pick a libero,? Arnold said. ?They?re both kind of about the same right now. Some days one looks better than the other, and some days they flip-flop that.

?That?s really my problem: I have no clear-cut answer on these kids. So I?m having a hard time deciding.?

Juniors Paige Proffitt (5-5) and Brittany Schale (5-4) are likely to join the back-row rotation, while junior Callie Linnens (5-10) and sophomores Sarah Jost (5-10) and Sienna Kaufman (5-8) could contribute on the front row.

Two newcomers, senior Tas Sanchez (5-7) and transfer junior Phoebe Hett (5-10), could see action as well once they become more familiar with the system.

Season outlook

Arnold almost always moderates the outside expectations of her teams, especially when a new setter comes on board. But this year, Arnold is more ada?mant about the team?s learning curve.

?I think we?re going to need more time,? she said. ?Those (seniors) that came in last year had played their positions before on JV and C team and junior high.

?People have us way too high already (in the rankings),? she added. ?It?s pretty silly. They?re basing everything on Alex and Shannon and on the past. Alex and Shannon are great, but if we can?t get the ball to them…. As a coach you have to finagle that, too.?

Arnold hasn?t made the team?s schedule any softer. In addition to an always competitive Central Kansas League regular-season rotation, the Trojans opened their season Saturday with the preseason CKL tournament in Hoi?sing?ton, finishing second to Hesston with a 4-1 record.

The Trojans will play above their classification in several situations this season, including at tournaments hosted by South?east of Saline and McPher?son as well as at their own invitational in October.

?Anytime we go out to play we?re looking to see what our weaknesses are and how to get better so it doesn?t happen again,? Arnold said.

Though the start of the season may be bumpy at times, Arnold believes this team can ascend to its traditional position of success by the time the post-season comes along.

?Losing in the state finals left a bad taste in the mouths of the returners,? she said. ?The girls will need to use this as fuel for their fire and stay hungry as they go through the growing pains of a new team with new faces filling six empty spots left by last year?s team.

?Once we overcome the newness of the team and get stronger and better in our roles and the little aspects of the game, we could hopefully once again be a team to contend with and make a strong run at the end of the season.?

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