Hillsboro High School volleyball head coach Sandy Arnold told her team that opponents would be gunning for them. The Trojans nearly faltered in the first week of the season against a team they had already defeated.
Hillsboro dominated much of the Central Kansas League Tournament on Saturday. The Trojans defeated Kingman, 25-9 and 25-10; Halstead, 25-17 and 25-21; Nickerson, 25-10 and 25-7; and Pratt, 25-22 and 25-17, in the semifinal round. They were taken to three sets in the first match of the day against Hesston, 20-25, 25-21, and 25-20, and surely enough they faced the Swathers again in the championship match.
A three-serve streak by Addie Lackey allowed the Trojans to open up an 18-9 lead in the first game and Hillsboro cruised to a 25-13 victory.
Then the Trojans uncharacteristically fell apart in the second game. A series of unforced errors, seven total, allowed Hesston to take an 18-6 lead. Three consecutive kills and a three-serve streak by Tena Loewen made the score more respectable but the Trojans lost, 15-25.
The victory gave Hesston all the momentum and confidence in the match. The Swathers were pumped up and took a 6-1 lead in the final game when Arnold took a timeout.
“That rattled us a bit,” Arnold said.
As she glanced at her players, Arnold could sense that they expected a tongue-lashing. The veteran coach told a joke instead. Even with the mood lightened, the Trojans continued to struggle. Alexanna Ratzlaff scored on a tip kill to give Hillsboro the serve at 5-10.
Maci Schlehuber submitted a tournament-saving performance from the serving stripe. She rattled off eight consecutive jump serves.
“It was not easy, serving it in there. She wasn’t just fluttering it in either,” Arnold said. “Her experience definitely showed there.”
After two Hesston errors, Loewen made an electric dig, diving to the floor. Lackey then converted the possession into a kill.
“That really pumped the team up,” Loewen said.
With a Hesston error and a Danae Bina backrow kill, the score was tied at 10.
Not feeling the awkwardness of her new brace any longer, Loewen was enlivened in the match, submitting another dig on a ball out of bounds. Throughout the day, the Trojans used a diverse offense. Lackey and Ratzlaff were used more on the outside. Loewen hit more over the middle than she ever has a high school player.
However with the match on the line, Schlehuber went with cross-court sets to Loewen on the left side of the floor, Hillsboro’s bread and butter the last two seasons. Watching Loewen deliver punishing spikes at the top of her leap was like seeing an old friend again.
At 16-13 Hillsboro, Loewen stopped a four-serve streak by Hesston with a thunderous hit to the Swather backline. It was the first of three consecutive kills. She also made two more digs and had a two-serve streak to put Hillsboro up 23-21. Ratzlaff scored the final two kills to give Hillsboro the 25-21 victory.
“I was really proud of that comeback,” Arnold said. “I thought they all did a great job.”