HHS volleyball returns 8 veterans

Hillsboro volleyball team returns eight letter-winners from last year’s 27-13 season. From left: Britanny Schale, Sienna Kaufman, Taylor Loewen, Sarah Jost, Abby Sechrist, Callie Linnens, Rebecca Kaufman and Savannah Unruh.
Hillsboro volleyball team returns eight letter-winners from last year’s 27-13 season. From left: Britanny Schale, Sienna Kaufman, Taylor Loewen, Sarah Jost, Abby Sechrist, Callie Linnens, Rebecca Kaufman and Savannah Unruh.
Sandy Arnold begins her 13th year as Hills­boro’s volleyball coach with luxury of welcoming eight returning letter-winners from last season’s 27-13 team.

Among Arnold’s sizable core of varsity-tested veterans are five potential front-line hitters 5-feet-7 or taller and, for the first time in several years, a couple of experienced setters to provide the assists.

So, why is Arnold concerned about the upcoming season?

“We lost two skilled and loud leaders from last year’s team,” she said, referring to all-league, state-caliber seniors Alex Ratzlaff and Shan­non Heiser.

“We will be looking for someone to fill that vacancy, particularly enthusiastically,” she said. “We will need some time to gain confidence in our skills and leadership in order to succeed.”

Returning veterans

Senior Callie Linnens (5-10) and junior Abby Sechrist (6-0) lead the front-line candidates in height.

“Callie comes back having gained some good varsity experience,” Arnold said. “She played middle, and that’s probably where she’ll play most of the time this year.

“She’s hitting the ball hard and kind of opening up some different shots other than just hitting the ball. I thinking blocking is one of her strengths.”

Sechrist (6-0) has been playing varsity since she was a freshman.

“She’s played a couple of different positions in the front row, but I’ll probably have her in the middle,” Arnold said. “Her strength, too, is blocking.

“Both of those girls are working on their attack. I’m trying to get them to hit shots, not just go up and hit a ball. We’re trying to smooth out their approaches and get their arm swings what they need to be so they can move on to the next step.”

Junior Sienna Kaufman (5-8) brings athleticism to the front row.

“Offensively, it’s kind of a tossup, but she may be my other outside hitter,” Arnold said. “Or, we might mix things up and have several playing on the outside. She really does well on the right side as a hitter. I like her there because that means she’s blocking the other team’s best hitter.

“When you can utilize all three hitters, which we didn’t do very much last year, that keeps the defense on its toes a little more.”

Junior Sarah Jost (5-7) brings multiple skills to the mix.

“Sarah’s a good passer,” Arnold said. “Sometimes she doesn’t have enough confidence with it. But hitting-wise, she’s one of the most consistent. She may not hit the hardest, but she will find an open spot. She’s smart up there.”

Rebecca Kaufman (5-9) may take on a hitter’ role from time to time, but Arnold sees the senior as her lead setter this fall.

“Becca is probably the most multi-skilled,” Arnold said. “She has great hands. but I’d also like to use her as a hitter. She’s got a nice snap on the ball and she’s very aware of the game and what’s going on.

“She’s a pretty quiet girl, but with her play she’s a leader,” Arnold added.

Junior Taylor Helmer (5-5) will see time at setter as well.

“She’s worked on her quickness and footwork,” Arnold said. “Her hands are good. She’s still learning defenses, and releasing to get to the ball faster. Those are things as a setter that you need to be able to do.”

Completing the list of letter-winners are a pair of 5-foot-3 senior defensive specialists, Savannah Unruh and Britanny Schale.

“Savannah has played a lot of back row,” Arnold said. “I would expect her to be the leader on the back row. I’m not sure if I’ll put her in as the libero right away or work her way into that.

“Brit is definitely the loudest of the girls,” Arnold said.

“One of things she does well, besides bringing energy to our team, is she’s a great talker for the hitters. She has learned to look across the net and look for holes and not watch her hitters so much. That is super helpful to the attackers and to our game.

“If we aren’t as powerful as we have been in the past, we’re going to need to be able to find an open spot on the floor. Who cares how hard it hits as long as it hits the floor?”

Newcomers

To complement her core of letter-winners, Arnold has some promising underclassmen on her 28-girl roster, including 12 freshmen.

Leading that group so far is sophomore Trinity Malm.

“Trin is a go-getter,” Arnold said. “Actually, Trin is like a bull in the china closet—she’s going to go hard. Sometimes I have to get her to back off and find a different way to hit because she’ll just want to wail on it.

“If she gets a hold of it, it’s going down, but when she doesn’t, it’s going to tear a hole in the back wall. She has to figure out how to ease up a little bit. With her, it’s going to be a consistency thing, hitting and serving.”

Arnold cited Chey­enne Bernhardt as another newcomer who could contribute as the season moves along.

“Other sophomores and freshmen will be vital to our success as they push us in practice daily,” she said.

Something to prove

While Arnold has a significant core of players with experience, she is looking for her veterans to step up their intensity and aggressiveness.

“I’m really looking for a leader right now,” Arnold said. “I want to see who is going to step up. With this group it might be a different person every night, I don’t know. That’s the hard part.

“I really want to see what they’ll do without Alex and Shannon because they relied on them (last season),” she added. “Here’s their chance to prove that they need to win so badly. But none of them have really jumped into that yet.”

Given the current mix of talent and personalities, Arnold said this year’s team may have a different look on the court.

“We may play a different style of volleyball than we have around here,” she said. “You can’t always hit, hit, hit. We have to mix it up.

“We’re more of a finesse team—put the ball over where the opponent isn’t kind of thing. It’s more smart volleyball than power volleyball.”

Season outlook

Arnold looks for Hesston and Kingman to be the teams to beat in the CKL.

“Nickerson has some really good young players coming up, too,” she added. “This league is always tough.”

The Trojans got a taste of the CKL Saturday when they competed in the annual preseason tournament at Pratt, finishing 3-2.

Looking ahead, Arnold said her biggest concern is whether this team is content simply with playing rather than winning.

“Do I want to go to state? Absolutely. Realistically, it’s going to be really hard for them. They’re going to have to really push and they’re going have to challenge themselves.

“They’re going to have to put their minds to what they want to get out of this season,” Arnold added. “I think they want to be good. But are they willing to do what it takes to get out of their comfort zone?”

The Trojans will open regular-season play Sept. 6 when they return to Pratt for a triangular that also includes Halstead.

Hillsboro’s first home appearance will be Sept. 13 when Kingman and Hesston come to Brown Gymnasium.