Maturity showed up early for a relatively inexperienced Hills?boro volleyball team that surprised its coach, and maybe itself, by winning the very first Central Kansas League preseason volleyball tournament Saturday in Pratt.
The Trojans ended the day with a 6-0 record, with only one match extending to three games. They capped the effort with a 25-22, 25-16 win over Smoky Valley in the championship match.
?I was pleasantly surprised,? coach Sandy Arnold said. ?I told the girls I didn?t think in a million years we?d do what we did.?
The tournament began with two five-team pools. The Trojans, playing in a tight, dark middle school gym, started with a 25-22, 25-7 win over Halstead, then went on to beat Sterling (25-9, 25-15), Smoky Valley (25-23, 18-25, 25-17) and Lyons (25-9, 25-13).
The top two teams from each pool moved on to a four-team championship bracket. In the opener, the Trojans outlasted the home team, 25-22, 25-23, coming back in Game 2 from a 15-3 deficit to pull out the win.
?There were several times (during the tournament) when we weren?t in a real good position, but we came back. I was so proud of them,? Arnold said.
In the championship showdown, the Trojans found themselves in a rematch with Smoky Valley, who had defeated Hesston, the No. 1 seed from the other pool, in the semifinals.
?For some reason, during my career here, we?ve had trouble with Smoky,? Arnold said. ?It always makes me nervous.?
Despite the two-game sweep, the scores were close, even after one of the Vikings? key players went down with a dislocated shoulder.
Several things stood out for Arnold about her team?s unexpected success. Passing and service placement topped the list.
?I really didn?t know how much these girls could do at this point, but we used our serving all day long,? Arnold said.
?People don?t understand how serving can affect the game,? she added. ?My girls did a great job with it?not only in the fact that we didn?t miss a whole lot of serves, but that put them in the right spots.
?We don?t necessarily serve hard, we just serve tough, as far as where we serve it.?
The Trojans pulled together several key serving runs during the day, including a couple by freshman Danae Bina as well as junior Krista Reimer and sopho?more Tena Loewen.
Another major surprise for Arnold was her team?s composure so early in the season. She credited her two returning letter-winners, senior Allie Faul and Loewen.
?If I would say to them, ?I need a leader right now??and I did that on two specific occasions?they both just nodded their heads and pulled the team together,? she said.
Facing the huge deficit against Pratt, Faul pulled the team together on her own initiative at a time when Arnold couldn?t afford to spend another timeout.
?I didn?t ask her what she said to them, but we started to pull together a little run and you could see Pratt going, ?Oh gosh, what are we doing?? That?s when we kind of pushed it.?
Arnold also praised her team?s teamwork and hustle.
?We were a lot scrappier than usual, I thought,? she said. ?Even the balls we didn?t get to we were hustling after. That was a lot of fun to see.?
When it was all over, Arnold said, ?I told the girls how proud I was of the composure I had seen in such a young, inexperienced group. But I also told them I honestly didn?t believe we would have done what we did on this particular day with this particular group.
?They were pretty excited when they realized we were the first Central Kansas League champs.?
Arnold put the accomplishment in perspective.
?There are definitely some things we wrote down that we need to work on,? she said. ?You never know with a young team how every night is going to go.
?I?ve got to keep in perspective that this was one day and one tournament. It?s not like we?re state champs,? she added. ?We?re going to keep working to improve this team and keep them knowledgeable. We?ll see where it goes from here.?
Coming?The Trojans return to competition Thursday when they travel to Marion for matches against the Warriors, Southeast of Saline and the defending Class 2A champions from Moundridge.
They will make their home debut next Tuesday with matches against Hesston and Douglass.
Both events start at 5 p.m.