Coming off the most successful volleyball season in school history?capped by a third consecutive state title in October?it?s hard to imagine how much longer the Hills?boro Trojans can maintain such lofty success.
But Coach Sandy Arnold and her team are determined to reach those rarified heights again this season.
?Winning three state championships does increase the expectations for this year,? Arnold admitted. ?We realize that also puts a target on our back.?
Gone this fall are all-league performers Danae Bina, Addie Lackey and Maddie Duerksen from a team that finished 43-1 and claimed the Class 2A state title at Emporia.
But Arnold?s talent pool is far from dry this fall.
Five starters return from last year?s squad, plus several more who saw varsity time.
Heading the list of veterans is Alex Ratzlaff, a 5-foot-8 junior outside hitter who made first team all-league as well as several state?wide honors as a sophomore.
Providing key support at middle blocker will be junior Shannon Heiser (5-8), who has been a solid starter since her freshman season.
Also returning are three battle-tested seniors: middle blocker Emily Jost (5-9), outside hitter Lakyn Johnson (5-7) and defensive specialist Bradli Nowak (5-4).
?We?re going to rely on our returners?and Alex and Shannon will be a big part of that, even though they are juniors,? Arnold said. ?But as a whole, I think the entire senior class will be key for us because they?ve played a lot of volleyball, even though some haven?t played a lot of varsity.
?I think they bring us a lot of potential.?
The three senior non-starters coming back are Julie Sinclair (5-4), Shelley Arnold (5-4) and Tara Proffitt (5-4).
Arnold is looking at two of them to fill a key vacancy at setter. This will be the third consecutive season her varsity team will start the season with a new setter, but that doesn?t mean the two seniors are new to the position.
?I have two girls who have been setting since I started working with them in third or fourth grade, Julie Sin?clair and Shelley Arnold,? said the Trojan coach. ?They both bring different strengths to the whole.
?Julie is a lot more vocal than Shelley?that?s just her personality. That helps in the leadership part. Shelley maybe quiet, but she has good hands. She wants to know where the hitters want the ball and she?ll get it there.?
Arnold believes her squad will be a good offensive team, but if it wants to be explosive on offense it will need to continue to improve its passing and defense.
?As is usually the case with new people in the lineup or in new positions, we will need some time to work together and perfect our skills,? she said.
If that happens, opponents will need to be on their guard.
?Once our new girls gain some experience and confidence, we would like to think we could be very competitive once again,? Arnold added. ?Our daily preparation in practice will be crucial to our success.?
This season, Hoisington and Larned join the Central Kansas League to complete a 12-school league. The Tro?jans rolled through the CKL last year with a perfect 9-0 record, but Arnold is expecting a rugged path to a repeat.
Newcomer Hoisington has qualified for state each of the past three seasons, but Arnold is looking to Hesston as the team to beat for the league title, with Pratt and Sterling joining the chase.
Meanwhile, during the regular season the Trojans will be testing their meddle against larger schools again. In addition to past dual matchups with Great Bend, Newton and Cheney, the Trojans have replaced the Canton-Galva Invitational with a tournament Oct. 11 at McPherson. In addition to the host team, the field will include the likes of Goddard, Salina Central and Bishop Carroll.
?That tournament is huge, and I hope it?s a good step in the right direction,? Arnold said. ?I?m looking forward to trying it and see what happens. It will be a very good test for us?physically, skillfully, emotionally and mentally.
?And it will help us to see where we really are among all the classes of volleyball.?
Hillsboro also will make its second appearance at the competitive Southeast of Saline Invita?tional Sept. 13 and will host the always challenging Trojan Invita?tional Oct. 18.
Hillsboro opened its season Saturday at the CKL preseason tournament in Hesston. Coverage is included in this week?s regular edition of the Free Press.