Photo by Kaitlyn Stratton
During the third and final game of sub-state against Blue Valley the varsity volleyball team held their breath. The score was 28-27; just one point stood in the way of moving on to state. Junior Victoria Yedo served the game point ball, aiming deep right, and no one on the opposing team touched it. The ace landed barely on the 2-inch line – a point for East.
The girls on the bench flooded the court, forming a clump of bodies in the center as they embraced one another in shock.
They were going to state for the first time since 2009. Last year, the Lancer volleyball team lost in the second round of sub-state to Blue Valley Northwest. This recent win at the substate tournament on Oct. 22 was their redemption, according to senior Sara Maddox.
The volleyball team accomplished their goal of playing at state through strong leadership from the seniors, who have built a unique closeness within the team.
“We play really well together and the energy on the court is positive which has really helped us,” senior Emma Henderson said.
As one of the four seniors, Henderson feels that there is no shortage of leadership on the court. In comparison to last year with only one senior, these four seniors have helped keep the team on track and focused in order to get to state.
“There is not a bad seed in this group and there are four seniors on this team, so we really take a leadership role on the court to help communication and make the team more cohesive,” Henderson said.
To prepare for this season, head coach Patty Phillips has been working with seniors towards building a positive and intense practice routine. By watching videos and analyzing the way other high-ranking teams play, they have been focusing specifically in practices on drills and plays that will play to their advantage on the court.
“We want to push a little more outside the box each practice so that they [the team] do get better,” Phillips said. “So we set our goals and for this reason the team is peaking at just the right moment.”
Going into this season, Phillips evaluated her team knowing that the four seniors would fill any leadership void. She realized that going to state again was a realistic team goal.
“[The assistant coach and I] looked at them realistically over the summer, including talent level, and we had the expectation that we would go to state this year,” Phillips said. “We were so close last year, and having this special mesh and the seniors having an extra year of club [volleyball] under their belt, gave us the expectation and goal that we should go to state.”
According to seniors Maddox and Henderson, another main contributing factor to the team’s success, besides consistently harder practices and drills, is the supportive and enthusiastic atmosphere on the court. The seniors have built this foundation through interactions off the court. These bonding activities include senior Sara Maddox’s favorite, chair volleyball with residents at Claridge Court.
In her third year as head coach, Phillips has seen the team grow consistently stronger each year. She came into the program ranked last in the state, with only six wins compared to the 25 losses. The seniors have seen the team progress from this point, ending last season at 27-9, and ending this year playing at state.
“Our main goal was just to get to state, play the best that we can and if we were to win at state, it would be a great perk,” Henderson said.