With an experienced core group returning and a talented freshman class on the rise, Hillsboro volleyball coach Sandy Arnold is working to rebound from her team’s first losing season since her HHS debut season in 2004.
Following a 12-27 season and a 2-8 record in the Central Kansas League in 2016, Arnold is hoping to lead the Trojans a few steps closer to their winning tradition.
“I would like to finish in at least the top half of the league,” Arnold said about this year’s goal. “I know Hesston, Nickerson and Kingman are going to be rough—and they have everybody back. We’re kind of building toward that again.”
The Trojans’ path to success will be blending her core of five returning veterans with an influx of five talented freshmen who led last year’s middle school team to the league championship.
On the court, their passing and serving skills will determine how successful the season will be.
“We must be able to perform those two skills at a high level to compete,” Arnold said.
Arnold’s returning veterans include four seniors: middle hitter Abby Sechrist (6-feet), outside hitters Sarah Jost (5-7), Sienna Kaufman (5-8) and setter Taylor Helmer (5-8), plus junior Trinity Malm (5-7) at outside hitter.
Sechrist was an honorable-mention all-league selection a year ago.
“Her definite strength is blocking, but she also has grown in her knowledge of the game, especially on the attack,” Arnold said. “She is starting to figure out where to hit the ball and put it on the floor, whether it’s a hard shot or a soft shot. That part is really coming along.
“As of right now, she’s going to try the back row, too, so we’re going to see how that goes. She has done a good job.”
Arnold calls Jost her team’s most consistent hitter so far this fall.
“She hits hard—it’s not as hard as some I’ve had in the past, but she definitely is the most consistent,” Arnold said. “She’s one of the most consistent passers as well. We’ll be counting on her to keep the offense moving with our passing.”
Arnold envisions Kaufman playing right-side hitter this fall.
“The reason I like Sienna on the right side is that she’s also a good blocker over there, and that helps us get touches on the other team’s best hitter,” she said. “She’s really starting to hit the ball down, getting on top of it better and being a little more consistent.”
Helmer will be the team’s setter.
“Right now, I’m looking at a 5-1 (formation) with her being the only setter,” Arnold said. “The way I have my offense set up, I could easily sub and put in another setter even if Taylor stays in the game. She has great hands and she knows the game.”
Malm brings good serving, passing and hitting skills to the team, according to Arnold.
“She’ll be my other outside hitter. When she’s on, she probably hits as hard as anybody. She’s still learning when to kill and when to survive. She’s also got a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and that really helps.”
Arnold said sophomore Megan Bechtold (5-8) has been pushing for playing time as backup setter and Addie Berens (5-9) has been showing solid skills as an outside hitter.
Arnold said freshman Jessica Saunders (5-11) will be a starter as the season opens.
“She’s probably going to be my other middle (hitter),” her coach said. “I’m not exactly sure if she’ll play all the way around, but I have another freshman who could play for her.
“Dani Klein (5-5) does a good job on the back row,” Arnold said. “She’s a go-getter. Really, all those freshmen do a great job of soaking up the information and using it. If the don’t know, they ask.”
Teegan Werth (5-6) is likely to see court time as situations dictate.
“Teegan has a lot of skills,” Arnold said. “She’s going to be an all-around good player. I’m just not quite sure where she’s going to play. If anybody got hurt, I wouldn’t hesitate putting her in. She is definitely pushing a lot of girls.”
Arnold said Tuesday Weisbeck (5-9) is another freshman pushing for playing time.
“She hits the ball hard and she’s a tall girl who could provide a block,” Arnold said.
Kinsey Kleiner (5-5) will likely develop her skills as a setter with the junior varsity, but shows potential to be the heir apparent in coming seasons.
“I’ve worked them in a lot during practice so I wouldn’t hesitate to put them in as needed,” Arnold said. “They’re going to be nervous at first, but once they figure it out, they will be all right.”
Arnold said mixing veterans with freshmen has the can challenge team chemistry, but it doesn’t have to.
“The (veterans) who realize (the freshmen) can help the team are good with it,” she said. “It’s just how you respond to that. Are you going to get mad that they’re pushing you, or are you going to perform because they’re pushing you?
“We’ve got to have some help,” Arnold added, noting her roster of 15 athletes. “I think they’re excited that they will be able to help.”
Another attribute of her freshman five: “They are probably the most enthusiastic group I’ve had in the past two or three years,” Arnold said. “This freshman class is vocal, and that helps us. I am excited about this group.”
As in previous years, Arnold doesn’t lighten the season schedule based on talent level.
“We will continue to branch out this season, as we have scheduled matches with larger schools such as Great Bend and Emporia (Oct. 5), and at the Southeast of Saline (Sept. 9) and McPherson (Oct. 7) tournaments,” she said.
The Trojan Invitational (Oct. 14) will again draw a challenging field. The host team could potentially face Andale, Rock Creek, Circle or Augusta.
The 2017 season opened Saturday with the CKL preseason tournament hosted by Haven. The Trojans finished the day with a 2-4 record for seventh place.
Hillsboro’s first home appearance will be Sept. 12 versus Halstead.