To their credit, the Trojans came back to claim third place with a win over Smoky Valley and a 4-1 record for the day.
“It was short of our goal,” Trojan coach Sandy Arnold said about the third-place finish. “We went there to win. But we did get a good idea of what we need to work on to get to the level we want to be.”
Hillsboro breezed through pool play in the morning session, defeating Marion, 25-15, 25-15, and Wichita Collegiate, 25-11, 25-9.
“I thought Marion had improved a lot since the last time we played them,” Arnold said. “They have a couple of good hitters. They just need a little more time and they’ll be OK.
“I thought we did a good job for the first match of the year.”
After Collegiate followed that opening match with a straight-set win over Marion, 25-15, 25-17, Arnold expected a closer battle when HHS took on the Spartans.
“I thought Collegiate looked pretty sharp against Marion, but then when we played them they seemed to be intimidated or something,” she said. “They are very young; I think they had one junior and the rest were sophomores.”
The Trojans found the going tougher in bracket play, escaping with a 25-27, 27-25, 25-22 nail-biter in their opening-round match with Nickerson.
Hillsboro was down 21-15 in the rubber game before coming back to snatch the victory.
“I really had no idea what to expect from them, but they were very good,” Arnold said of the Panthers. “We beat them, but it was a tough.”
Arnold, who plays 11 of the 12 team members who suit up for each match, ran out of substitutions before it was over. But her team still found a way to win.
“I was very proud of them for the way they came back after we lost the first game,” Arnold said.
The loss to Hesston in the semifinals was particularly disappointing, Arnold said. Both she and her players felt they should have won.
In the first game, five missed serves and five net calls against the Trojans contributed to a 19-25 loss. But Hillsboro eliminated those mistakes in Game 2 and prevailed relatively easily, 25-14.
The Trojans were leading late in Game 3, but Hesston staged a late rally to pull out a 25-21 win.
“I don’t know if we got rattled or what,” Arnold said. “The girls were really disappointed.”
After the loss, Hillsboro had to turn around and play the third-place match against Smoky Valley, who had a chance to recuperate while watching the Hillsboro-Hesston semifinal.
“I thought surely they would be a little more energetic, and I thought they would be excited to be playing for third and fourth,” Arnold said. “We on the other hand were disappointed about playing for third, so I was concerned about our mentality. But we beat them fairly good the first game (25-16). The second game was close, but we pulled it out (25-23).”
In the title match, Hesston defeated Hoisington, 16-25, 25-18, 25-13. Collegiate defeated Nickerson to take fifth place and Ellinwood defeated Lyons for seventh place.
In the round-robin matches for the four pool losers, Marion lost to Haven, 13-25, 23-25, to Sterling, 25-15, 13-25, 12-25, and to Halstead, 20-25, 15-25.
Arnold said her team needs to work on its front-line attack, where the Trojans lost key players from last year’s team through graduation.
“We have three girls who have played a lot of varsity on the front row, but other than that the other three or four just need some time and some experience up there,” Arnold said.
She felt her veteran back row played well for opening day.
“I thought overall we held our own with our passing,” Arnold said. “I was pretty pleased with what they did. They played good defense and talked well, telling the front line what shots were open.”
Arnold said she sees areas for improvement, but little work in practice and a few more matches should make a big difference.
“When it’s this early, and they’re trying to do what you ask them to do (and still make mistakes), it’s a little different then at the end of the year,” she said. “I was proud of them.”
Arnold said she was impressed with what she saw from other league teams at this tournament.
“There are several teams that on any given night could beat anybody else,” she said. “We’re going to have to be on our A game.”
Coming—Hillsboro will be back in action Tuesday with a triangular at Claflin.