After losing the first game of the sub-state tournament to Blue Valley Northwest last year, the varsity volleyball team didn’t have very high expectations coming into this season.
That’s why they were surprised when their first game of the year was a win against BVNW. Since then, the team has steadily moved up in the ranks, now tied for second in the Sunflower League. Seeded 7th in the state of Kansas currently, the team ended last season ranked 77th in the state.
With a current record of 26-6, compared to last year’s 7-26, the team is much more confident this time around. They’ll be going to sub-state on Oct. 24 to reclaim their victory and hopefully go on to state.
“We were almost good [last year],” senior and varsity team captain Mary Booton said. “We would take really good teams to three games. So they would win and then we would win, and then there would be a tie-breaking game. Normally we would lose. So now we’re beating those teams. We’re just stepping up every year.”
Last year’s team was mostly made up of underclassmen, including four freshmen, compared to the usual one or two. Now that those players are on their second year of varsity, they’re older and more experienced, and much closer friends.
“It’s such a team sport, and you have to rely on each other and trust each other,” sophomore Ally Huffman said. “When you’re better friends it just works because you know them and you know how everybody plays.”
This newfound companionship is most evident in the relationships between the grades. Both Huffman and Booton had troubles connecting with the seniors last year but say those age barriers are gone now.
“Since I’m the only senior, I’m kind of forced to interact with everyone,” Booton said. “Last year we had three seniors, but I guess we weren’t as close. We have so much talent on the team, so now we have so much respect for each other. We know each other more as players and as people.”
In addition to the new friendship ties, training has also become more intense this year. Coach Patty Phillips asks the girls to come in with a personal goal for each practice so they know what they need to work on individually.
“We always want to push [the players] and get them outside their comfort zone a little bit so they practice at that level,” Phillips said. “And before they know it, that level is comfortable.”
Phillips brings the practice schedule on a whiteboard every day and tries to mix old and new by bringing in fresh drills and tweaking those from last year.
To stay on top of their game, the team occasionally watches film of the previous night’s matches at practice to review what they did right and wrong. But more than any drill or aspect of the game, Phillips thinks what the girls mostly need to work on is staying humble now that they’ve had a taste of success.
“I want them to have confidence because we are playing at a very high level,” Phillips said. “But we have to come into the gym and work hard every day to keep that level.”
Phillips says the team has some new talent this year because more girls tried out. Last year, the volleyball coaches struggled to fill four teams, but they had about 70 players to choose from this season, and even had to make cuts.
“If we continue to have those numbers coming in, the more talent there will be to pick from and the more higher-level players for each level,” Phillips said. “So it’s a good thing junior high is starting to do sports, which helps us ultimately as well.”
Looking ahead, Phillips is confident the team can make it to state as long as they push themselves no matter what team they’re playing.
“The mindset before was, ‘It’s okay to lose. We’re not that good,’ and that’s not really in my vocabulary,” Phillips said. “I think their mindset is now, ‘We’re winning and we’re going to come out and beat that next team that’s on the court.’”