Maddi Duerksen (2) and Emily Jost (29) attempt to block a hit by Sterling?s Andi Dowell during the opening pool play match Saturday. Both Trojans were starting varsity for the first time, Duerksen as the setter and Jost as a hitter. Battling the heat inside Brown Gymnasium almost as much as their opponents, the Hillsboro Trojans team outlasted 11 other teams to win the Cen?tral Kansas League preseason volleyball tournament with a perfect 5-0 mark.

The Trojans, who came in ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A preseason poll, clinched the title with a 25-21, 25-16 win over Pratt in the championship match.

With the outside temperature cracking triple digits, the atmosphere inside Hillsboro?s non-air-conditioned gymnasium heated up almost as steadily as the competition did.

?I?m guessing 110 at least,? coach Sandy Arnold said about the late-day degrees inside. ?It was hot.?

The tournament format was adjusted this year to accommodate Hoisington and Larned, who will be joining the CKL next season. The 12 teams formed four three-team pools. The top two teams from each pool advanced to bracket play while the third-place finishers faced each other in a round-robin format.

Lakyn Johnson, another newcomer to the Trojans? starting lineup, hits the ball past Sterling defender Aubree Nuest. Strong opening

Hillsboro got off to a hot start competitively during the relative cool of the morning with a 25-7, 25-17 win over Sterling, then beat Nickerson, 25-13, 25-5 to qualify for bracket play.

?The coaches and I were all pleased, and maybe a little surprised,? Arnold said of her team?s first efforts. ?We weren?t sure how the new kids (in the lineup) would mesh in with the core. We were actually quite pleased with the way they came out.?

After the Trojans defeated Haven, 25-15, 25-19, in the first round of bracket play, they faced their longtime rivals, Hesston, in the semifinals.

The two teams went to three games before Hillsboro nailed down the 25-20, 20-25, 25-17 victory.

?I imagine that was more like the championship match right there,? Arnold said. ?Not that Pratt isn?t good, don?t get me wrong. But just the way it worked out in the bracket.

Hillsboro?s Alex Ratzlaff prepares to pound the ball against Sterling defender Kasady Smith during the opening pool-play match. The Trojans won the game, 25-7, 25-17 and went on to win the CKL tournament title.vDon Ratzlaff / Free Press<p>Hillsboro?s Alex Ratzlaff prepares to pound the ball against Sterling defender Kasady Smith during the opening pool-play match. The Trojans won the game, 25-7, 25-17 and went on to win the CKL tournament title.?Hesston is a very good team. They have several players that can hit, and they defend better than most. We knew going in that was going to be the toughest (match of the day).?

Adding to Hesston?s fire was the fact that the Trojans won all five meetings between the two teams a year ago.

?They were wanting to beat us just because they were tired of us,? Arnold said.

The Trojans adjusted their defense to try to meet the challenge of Hesston?s hitters.

?They?re a team we had to do that against because they have so many weapons,? Arnold said. ?You have to be really good at reading what they?re doing.

?It was a challenge, and we knew it would be a challenge?and the heat was really starting to be a factor for everybody by that point.?

Overcoming challenges

After the Trojans finally put Hesston away, Arnold wondered if her team would have enough energy left for the finals.

?I was worried about not just fatigue, but heat affecting their bodies in different ways,? she said. ?We were talking to them, ?You drink even if you?re not thirsty.? We got some wet towels and were trying to use those as they came off for timeouts.?

After Hillsboro?s first set win against the Greenbacks, her players munched on fruit and granola bars.

?It got to the point to where they were hungry,? Arnold said. ?That was our greatest concern, that they have enough fuel in the tank for that match. They gave everything they had against Hesston, obviously, because we had to get through that.?

To add to the challenge of a long day, two Hillsboro starters encountered injuries. Junior Emily Jost, who was making her varsity debut, rolled her ankle during the second match of the day, and senior outside hitter Addie Lackey tweaked hers later but was able to return.

Arnold cited Darci Heinrichs? play as Jost?s replacement.

?She ended playing the rest of the day and filled her role nicely,? she said. ?Those kids on the bench, they have to be ready to go because you never know when we?re going to need them. I feel pretty confident with just about any of them going in.?

Team performance

Looking back over the day, Arnold was pleased with the way her team passed the ball.

?That?s always my biggest concern, because that?s just a kick-start for the offense,? she said. ?We have a lot of girls who can hit the ball, and hit hard, and they can place it. If we can?t get that pass, then the set?s not there, and then it?s not as easy to do that.?

Arnold also affirmed senior Maddi Duerksen, the Trojan?s new setter: ?I thought she did a nice job. There?s still a lot of things we have to work on, but I thought for her first time out, all day long, she did a good job.?

On Arnold?s list for improvement is her team?s floor coverage when the Trojans are attacking.

?In volleyball, when a hitter goes up, you need to expect that it?s going to be blocked,? she said. ?We have girls that kill balls a lot, but the time you don?t expect (a block), it?s going to come back in your face.?

Arnold said her team also needs to sharpen its net play and improve and its blocking and serving.

?We?re a pretty good serving team, but we can serve better than we did,? she said. ?We were serving with pressure, but we weren?t hitting our spots very well. When we did, it made a big difference in our game.?

Coming?Hillsboro (5-0) will compete in a double dual next Tuesday at Douglass, with Hesston and Word of Life also participating.

The following Thursday, the Trojans travel to Southeast of Saline for an eight-team tournament that also includes Abilene, Beloit, Concordia, Moundridge, Sacred Heart and Salina South.

Written By
More from Don Ratzlaff
HHS boys advance to Classic finals, HHS girls will play for third
The Hillsboro basketball teams will be facing different destinations on Saturday, following...
Read More