“I never expected this, and I?m not sure anybody did,” Arnold said of the tournament title. “Now there?s a little more pressure because expectations may be rising. The thing is, we?ve got to get better because those other teams in the league will get better.”
Because of the previous Tuesday’s triangular with Claflin and Lyons, Hillsboro came into the tournament as one of only a handful of teams with a couple of competitive games already played.
“We did have two matches under our belt and there were only five other teams that did,” Arnold said. “Some of the teams were making their season debut. That might have helped us.”
Marion?one of the teams around the league that is sure to improve as the season progresses?went 2-3 without Whitney Gordon, a 6-1 freshman who has earned a starting role while practicing with the Warriors varsity. Gordon missed the tournament with an illness.
Hillsboro vs. Haven?Hillsboro steamrolled the Wildcats 25-14 in the first game of the championship series, rattling off a 5-0 run to break a 10-10 tie and cementing that advantage with a second 5-0 stretch to make it 20-12.
Dakota Kaufman had four kills and a solo block during her rotation in the front row, then served the Trojans to a 23-13 lead with an ace that prompted a Haven timeout.
The Wildcats were unable to gain any traction before the end of the first game, but showed more dedication to defending against Kaufman’s thunder and lightning in the second game.
Less awestruck and more active offensively?in no small part because of ineffective serving by Hillsboro?Haven had the second game knotted at 8-all, and then 12-all, and then 16-all.
After an ace by Megan Troyer caused a Hillsboro time out, the Wildcats strung together nine consecutive points to level the match.
“When you serve into the net it?s really hard to disrupt their offense, and we served into the net a lot,” Arnold said. “Plus, we were making it too easy on them. We were tipping in the wrong places and hitting right where they were standing. The combination of those two things really disrupted our offense.”
The rubber game was a pitched back-and-forth battle that saw only one lead change, as Haven rode its momentum to a 5-point lead and maintained that early advantage until Kaufman knotted it at 17 with a kill.
Hillsboro then seemed to have seized the lead, 18-17, on what appeared to be an ace by Cassie Kroeker. But Kroeker’s serve was overturned during a conference of officials and, with the point awarded to Haven, the lead remained in the Wildcat grasp until Kaufman buried the 22-22 strike, which forced a Haven timeout.
Sharp serves from Tiffany Rooker gave the Trojans the next two points and a 24-22 lead, and Hillsboro went back to Kaufman to finish it off.
And finish it Kaufman did, hammering an overpowering drive directly into Haven libero Paula Stucky, who could not make the play and was perhaps fortunate to find all of her limbs still attached and functioning as normal after she picked herself up.
Hillsboro vs. Hesston?In the first game, the Trojans turned a 9-9 tie into a 17-12 lead only to have the Swathers roar back to knot it at 20-all. Hillsboro served and the Swathers set up an attack on the right side that was blocked down by Dakota Kaufman and Kassidi Luthi for a 21-20 Hillsboro lead.
Hesston scored the next point, but Hillsboro swept the final four points for a 25-21 win.
Hillsboro turned a 15-15 tie into a 21-15 lead in the second game.Hesston rallied to cut it to 22-20, but Arnold’s timeout broke the Swathers rhythm and back-to-back kills by Kaufman?the first cross-court, the second down the line?sealed the match for the Trojans.
“We had a long time to sit and watch Hesston,” Arnold said. “I thought Hesston was pretty good. They have (Dominique) Chew at outside hitter and she?s very talented.”
“We watched them play Nickerson right before (our match), and Nickerson was really good,” she added. “Nickerson came out No. 1 in their pool, and they?re another team that likes to play the fast tempo.”
Hillsboro vs. Ellinwood?The Eagles, said Arnold, are a much-improved team, and proved it once by taking Hoisington to three games and again by pressing the Trojans for two games. But Hillsboro’s experience proved decisive.
“They have three or four good hitters, and we had to mix it up to beat them because just hitting at them wasn?t going to be enough,” she said. “We had to work hard to find holes, and actually our passing was OK for most of the day.”
“I was very pleased again with our passing,” she added. “That?s what makes it all work.”
Marion?Marion lost its first three games of the day to Ellinwood (9-25, 19-25), Hoisington (12-25, 13-25) and Sterling (25-16, 21-25, 15-25), but defeated Halstead (25-22, 25-22) and Lyons (25-16, 25-13).
Against Hoisington, the Warriors pulled within 7-8, but allowed a 9-0 Hoisington to put the first game out of reach. The second game saw Marion pull into a 5-5 tie, and saw Hoisington pull away with a 6-0 stint that made it 11-5. Hoisington outscored the Warriors 14-8 the rest of the way.
Against Ellinwood, Marion lost a walkover in the first game but found and maintained their composure long enough in the second to force a 14-14 tie on a Julia Zeiner kill.
But Ellinwood took an 18-14 lead coming out of a Marion time out, and the Eagles warded off the Warriors the rest of the way.
?I do not think we were ready to play in the morning,? Versch said. ?It?s the first match of the year and there was some pressure to win in our new gym. But we also missed way too many serves, usually at the worst time, after a kill or great play.?
After going through pool play without winning a game, let alone a match, the Warriors tasted a little success after lunch.
The first taste came against Sterling, against whom the Warriors rallied for an 8-3 lead on back-to-back kills by Julia Zeiner.
Zeiner then served Marion to a 13-4 lead which grew to 19-9 during Chassidy Carlson’s serve. The Warriors followed through, finishing it off 25-16. But Sterling overcame a 12-7 deficit to take the second game and rode that wave to a 25-15 win in the third.
Marion then defeated Halstead, and Versch noted that the victory against the Dragons is an important early-season benchmark.
“We played Halstead four times last year, and we didn’t beat them until the last time,” he said.
Against Lyons, Marion?s final opponent for the day, the Warriors finally found their rhythm. Trailing 3-14 in the second game, Zeiner served 11 straight points to tie it at 14-14.
Marion allowed one point the rest of the way, with Kathy Goering serving 11 straight points to end the game and match.
?It was a great way to end the day,? Versch said. ?Even though we got beat by Sterling we ended up winning the pool because Halstead beat Sterling in two?kind of a moral win!?
There was one more silver lining to Marion?s slow start:
?We missed Whitney Gordon,? Versch said. ?That was the rotation that we had been practicing and it threw us off a bit, but it did allow me to see a new player emerge.?
?(Sophomore) Kathy Goering had a great day and is now a definite varsity player,? he said ?She really improved throughout the day.?
Coming?Hillsboro, Marion and Hesston faced off in a non-league triangular Sept. 9 in Hillsboro. Marion next plays at the Centre tournament Saturday morning, and hosts a triangular Sept. 16.
Hillsboro visits Nickerson for a triangular with Lyons Sept. 16.