The Hillsboro volleyball team not only claimed the Trojan Invitational title for the third consecutive year Saturday, but gained a measure of payback with a dominant victory over Sterling in the championship game.
Eighteen days after the Black Bears ended the Tro?jans? undefeated season, Hillsboro made a clear statement with its 25-10, 25-13 win in the finals.
The 7-0 week, which started Tuesday with league wins over Haven and Halstead, improved Hills?boro?s season record to 31-3.
With no guarantee that the two teams would even play each other during the day, Coach Sandy Arnold said her team focused in practice on improving specific areas of its game.
?We talked about some things about Sterling in practice, but it was more about how we were going to cover a middle attack, in general,? she said. ?(The Black Bears) are strong in the middle, but so was Rock Creek and some of the other teams we?re going to see.
?I felt it was a general weakness that we needed to address. In the long run, it was very beneficial against Sterling, because I felt we did our job taking their middles out. That was our goal.?
Hillsboro rolled to a 7-0 lead in the first set behind the serving of Lakyn John?son. After Sterling scored on a Hillsboro hitting error, Julie Sinclair served for five straight points. Following another Trojan mis-hit, Hillsboro pushed its lead to 18-2 and cruised to the 15-point win.
Sterling played Hillsboro evenly as the second set began, but a soft kill by Alex Ratzlaff at 7-6 ignited a 5-0 run behind the serving of Shelley Arnold. The Trojans steadily pushed the margin to the final 12-point spread.
Though focusing in practice on technique, Coach Arnold admitted her girls were aware of the possibility for revenge.
?I can?t tell you the girls didn?t have that in the back of their minds, they probably did?I know I did,? she said. ?We didn?t want it to be that way again.?I knew if we made a couple of adjustments, we would beat them this time.?
Hillsboro breezed through pool play by defeating Chapman (25-7, 25-17), Minneapolis (25-19, 25-17) and Sunrise Christian Academy (25-10, 25-17).
?I felt like we did all right?we didn?t dilly-dally too much with the teams,? Arnold said. ?Minneapolis has some decent players and they never back down. We had to really work for that win.?
In the bracket semifinals, Hillsboro handled Circle, 25-15, 25-19. The Trojans used a 9-3 run down the home stretch to pull away in Set 1, then outscored the Thun?der?birds 7-4 at the end of Set 2 to nail down a berth in the finals.
?I thought the way they played their last couple matches of the day was almost as good as we had played all year,? Arnold said. ?Confidence, enthusiasm, a lot of smiles, a lot of action, really working the game plan, putting things that we had specifically worked on in practice and applying it in matches?I was very, very pleased with that.
?We used a lot of attack weapons,? she added. ?I thought Shannon (Heiser) and Emily (Jost) and Lakyn really got involved. The more they do that, the more the other team has to be honest?and that goes back to Alex?s favor because it opens her up again.
?I was just really pleased with the way everybody stepped up on that court?defensively, setters and blocking.?
Coming?Hillsboro was scheduled to complete its regular-season schedule Tuesday with a triangular at Sedgwick that also includes Hutchinson Trinity.
The second-ranked Trojans will then mark their return to Class 3A by hosting the sub-state tournament Saturday. Sterling (27-7, ranked No. 8) will lead a field of challengers that also includes Beloit, Ellsworth, Lyons, Marion, Minneapolis and Southeast of Saline.
Coach Sandy Arnold is looking for a home-court advantage as Hillsboro tries to secure its seventh consecutive state berth and ninth in 10 years under Arnold.
?It?s been a long time since we?ve had this opportunity, I hope we can take full advantage of it,? she said about playing at home. ?It?s fun to have our crowd there. It was rocking in there Saturday?that was awesome.?
Pairings will be announced Wednesday and will be posted at hillsboro?freepress.com. Games begin at 2 p.m. in Robert C. Brown Gymnasium.