Junior hitter Dakota Kauf?man was the only player on this year?s team who saw action in Hillsboro?s previous visit to the state tournament two years ago.
And it showed.
After jumping to a 5-3 lead in Game 1, the Trojans, seeded seventh, grew tight and tentative as some frustrating officiating calls and their own errors compounded to throw them off stride. The Owls went on to claim a relatively easy 25-13, 25-17 sweep in the opening match.
?I really do think it was a case of state tournament nerves,? Arnold said.
?It didn?t matter that we talked about it ahead of time,? she added. ?I even showed them the clip from ?Hoosiers? where they walk into the gym and measure everything. I assured them the court would be 60 feet by 30 feet, and the net would be 32 feet long. I tried (to put them at ease). I didn?t know what else to do.?
Down but not out of contention after the loss to Garden Plain, the Trojans faced third-seeded Rock Creek in their pivotal second match?a team Hillsboro had battled evenly two weeks earlier at the Trojan Invita?tional before losing by identical 26-24 scores.
Game 1 at Salina followed a similar theme in the early going. But with the score tied at 11, the Mustangs jumped ahead with four straight points and still led by that margin at 21-17.
But with Tiffany Rooker serving, Hillsboro reeled off a run of four points to tie the contest, and the momentum swing carried the Trojans to a 27-25 win.
?I was pleased that we came out and played a whole lot better,? Arnold said. ?The girls had made some adjustments with their passing.?
Arnold said she warned her team between games that Rock Creek would make a run at them. And the Mustangs did, jumping to a 4-1 lead. Hillsboro?s tentativeness returned, and the Trojans never regained their stride, losing 13-25.
In the all-important rubber match, HHS jumped to a 3-1 lead. But Rock Creek scored four straight points to regain the lead and never trailed again on the way to a 25-19 win that mathematically ended Hillsboro?s chances of advancing.
?It?s just one of those things that when you?re not in the game the entire time?especially at the state tournament?one or two points can really hurt you; the other team gets the momentum and they run with it,? Arnold said. ?That?s what happened to us. We?d try to climb back in and then we?d make an error, and we just couldn?t quite get back into it.?
As they waited for their final match with Frontenac, Arnold said she challenged her squad to finish with a positive statement.
?I told them we?re from Hillsboro and we want to do something for our community here,? Arnold said. ?We?ll find out what you?re really made of because it would be easy to drop this (match) and just forget about it.
?But we?re here in the state tournament and there?s a lot of teams at home wishing they could just be here. We might as well go out with a bang.?
And they did. Playing loose and with confidence, the Trojans dominated the Raiders 25-18, 25-22 with Arnold rotating in her substitutes in Game 2.
Although the day didn?t go as coach and team had hoped, Arnold said the Trojans accomplished a lot simply by making it to Salina.
?I would have to admit that I wouldn?t have thought we would go to state at the beginning of this year,? she said. ?For new girls to step into new roles, and succeed in those spots, and for others to step up as leaders after being followers the past few years?they accomplished a lot.
?We definitely, like most teams, had our ups and downs. But they never quit, they bought into the changes I made and I appreciated that tremendously from them.
?They started to jell at the right time,? she added. ?We played some good volleyball at the end of the season.?
Arnold loses four seniors from the squad: Kassidi Luthi, Tiffany Rooker, Cassie Kroeker and Jet Skiles. But she should return an outstanding core of varsity veterans?who now have state tournament experience under their belts and a hunger for more.