Hillsboro, meet Alex Ratzlaff and Shannon Heiser. As freshmen they start at outside and middle hitter respectively for the Hillsboro High School volleyball team.
The rest of the Central Kansas League was introduced to the stellar freshmen Saturday at the CKL preseason volleyball tournament. They helped the Trojans dominate to win the second CKL title over the past three years.
Ratzlaff said it was her expectation to start with the Trojans. It was the plan that she and her best friend Heiser would both play together. Easier said than done when the returning player of the year and a second-team all-conference hitter have seniority at that position.
“I knew the team already was great,” Ratzlaff said. “Addie (Lackey) and Tena (Loewen) are amazing players.”
However, Ratzlaff comes from a volleyball family. Her mother, Amy, is the coach of the Tabor College volleyball team. In the summer, she plays against the seasoned veterans her mother coaches. She said she holds her own.
It might be because she is 5-foot-9 as a freshman. It might be because she can jump out of the gym. It might be because she has worked hard to obtain a complete volleyball repertoire.
In the semifinal match against Pratt, Ratzlaff notched kills over the middle of the net and from the left side Trojan front. She also had kills from the back row, which is a difficult skill to master.
Like most Trojans, she employs a jump serve to send back row defenders sprawling for spinning balls. Already she is a polished passer not to be substituted in the backline. Against Hesston in the first game of the final, she spun two consecutive viscous hits away from her body up to setter Maci Schlehuber. It is this skill she has improved the most in high school practices, something head coach Sandy Arnold has noticed.
“If your work in practice, if you work hard all the time, she’ll see it,” Ratzlaff said.
Although Ratzlaff was the flashier player, Heiser provided consistency and athleticism at middle hitter for Hillsboro. Her blocking was well-timed and accurate. She was also jump serving from the first game.
The two freshmen have blended in with the Trojans existing cast. Arnold said there will be growing pains to come, but Hillsboro is off to an undefeated 6-0 start and a tournament championship, something the state championship team last year could not claim.
“They do not even treat me like a freshman,” Ratzlaff said.
With Loewen and Lackey still providing athletic hitting pop and Erin Loewen and Taylor Thiessen providing experienced hitting and blocking off the bench, the Trojans had the four best hitters on the floor at any given time throughout the CKL tournament. The quality and depth of Hillsboro weapons is unmatched befitting the team’s No. 1 position atop the Kansas Volleyball Association rankings.
Add in Danae Bina who was the best libero throughout the tournament, and a senior setter in Schlehuber, and Hillsboro is more talented than they were last season.
“People might think we didn’t play so well today, what I’ll tell you is we’re not going to stop,” Arnold said.