The Hillsboro High School volleyball team lost the second game of the championship match of the Canton-Galva Tournament, 17-25, Saturday to Hesston.
The match was the fourth time this season the Trojans and Swathers met on the court. Although Hillsboro won the first three contests and the first game Saturday, 25-18, possible familiarity may have given Hesston clues to defeating the No. 1 volleyball team in the state.
It was the first time this season the Trojans were tied in a match while playing well. The mood on the Trojans’ bench between games was quiet and unsettled. They needed a player to step up. Instead, every player did.
With Hillsboro up 5-4, the teams engaged in a seven-turn volley. Danae Bina submitted three digs during the rally. Maci Schlehuber had one from behind Hillsboro’s block of Addie Lackey and Erin Loewen. The Trojans finally finished the point with a spinning Erin Loewen kill over the middle of the net.
“You feel very accomplished when you win a huge point like that,” Bina said.
That point allowed Hillsboro to wrestle all the momentum away from the underdog Swathers. They used the extra energy to fuel a sublime passing performance that allowed them to extend the lead to 20-12. Alex Ratzlaff had two diving digs in the run; Bina and Schlehuber also contributed digs.
“We just got extremely excited,” Bina said. “We started having fun with it. Coach talks about a study all the time that says you play better when you’re happy.”
Head coach Sandy Arnold’s strategy — defending Hesston’s hitters with a player sliding behind the block and passers moving to the ball regardless of zone — was executed with precision.
The offense then diversified with Tena and Erin Loewen contributing kills and Shannon Heiser also registering a kill over the middle.
Erin Loewen was the hero of the match for Hillsboro. She had two block kills during the run. On top of providing Hillsboro with key blocking and hitting, she also had two digs near the net from the middle position.
“That’s a hard ball to dig,” Arnold said.
She was also the first girl off the bench calling open shots for Tena Loewen.
Not that the other senior Loewen needed much help. Tena Loewen was dialed in on Saturday, slamming home a multitude of unblockable cross-court strikes.
Hesston fought all match long. The Trojans increased the lead to 23-16, but the Swathers brought the score to 24-19 before Ratzlaff sealed the match with a back-row kill, 25-19.
“I’d like to get them to pull away a little more,” Arnold said.
The Trojans were consistent all day long. They defeated Canton Galva, 25-18 and 25-8, and Sunrise, 25-15 and 25-11. Head coach Sandy Arnold pointed to the Sunrise match as a place where the Trojans played at high level against an inferior opponent.
“People don’t realize how difficult that is to do,” she said.
They continued to defeat Halstead, 25-20 and 25-20, and Goessel in the tournament semifinal, 25-18 and 25-8.
However, the tournament final against Hesston may be the instance when the 23-1 Trojans put everything together, the emotional turning point in a championship season.