Head coach Sandy Arnold’s expectation for the Hillsboro High School volleyball team is to finish in the top three in the Central Kansas League.
The Trojans finished second in the league last year behind Pratt. Arnold expects stiff competition from the Greenbacks and from Halstead who are both returning several starters.
Arnold said the ultimate goal for the Trojans is to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the 3A state tournament in Salina.
Hillsboro defeated Cherokee-Southeast in its final game at state last year. They lost to eventual champion Osage City and runner-up Effingham Atchison County.
“It gets harder every year,” Arnold said.
Helping Arnold with that difficult task is a team returning with five regular players from last year. That group includes two 6-foot juniors and a senior who is 5-foot-10 — the Trojans should be formidable at the net.
“We have hitters who have the capability,” Arnold said.
Leading that group of hitters is junior Tena Loewen. Many coaches expect players to take a big leap forward between their sophomore and junior seasons — in terms of leadership, responsibility, and ability. Loewen was the Trojans primary hitter on a state-bound squad last season. She was also voted by opposing coaches as a member of the CKL first team.
As a team, the Trojans worked hard in the weight room and conditioning in the gym over the summer. The team also worked on drills to improve quick hitting and slides.
“I would like to speed up our offense,” Arnold said.
Arnold said Loewen has worked to become a dominant player. The 6-footer was already a very good player last season; Loewen will look to reach high over the net to smash hits with her sublime mixture of height and leaping ability.
“I think she’s still growing with her variety of attacks,” Arnold said. “She can read the defense; she reads the ball so well.”
Loewen is a complete player. She was rarely substituted last season because she is one of the Trojan’s best passers, possessing a deft touch on a variety of hits.
However, what separates Loewen from other talented players is her zeal for diving on the floor. Arnold said Loewen would reach balls that are seemingly untouchable because of her athleticism and her will to keep plays alive.
“Her hustle is amazing,” Arnold said. “She’s not going to let the ball hit the floor. We all have to have that thinking.”
Picking up the vocal leadership role for Hillsboro will be setter Callie Serene, Arnold said. Although the 5-foot-7 player saw a lot of time on the court last season, she was a secondary setter behind senior Allie Faul. As Faul did the season before from Candace Weinbrenner, Serene will inherit the role as top setter. Her goal will be to guide the Trojan attack intelligently.
“The setter is the quarterback of the team,” Arnold said. “Setters have to know all the hitters: what they want, when they want it, and where they want it.”
Arnold is not sure whether she wants to run a 5-1 or 6-2 attack. Other setter candidates include sophomore Danae Bina, junior Maci Schlehuber, and seniors Lindsey Brazil and Sammy Koons.
While Tena Loewen can notch a clean hit off any set, with the ability to adjust her body in midair, the other Trojan hitters are more effective with the right set.
Junior Erin Loewen likes the ball high and drifting to the right so she can use her momentum to hit the back corners of the court. Erin Loewen was an emerging hitter for the Trojans last season and was often subbed in and out with Bina during the Trojans’ rotation. She could see more time as a middle hitter this season while maintaining some work on the outside.
Last season’s middle hitter, Krista Reimer, likes the ball with a little less loft at the level of her face, giving her more of a quick power punch on balls in the middle of the court.
The Trojans will be short at hitter this season with the loss of junior Taylor Thiessen to season-ending shoulder surgery. Thiessen filled a valuable role for the team last season as the right-side hitter.
“Her biggest asset was blocking,” Arnold said. “She did a good job slowing down the team’s best hitter. We’ll miss her.”
Up for the job as right-side hitter will be sophomore Addie Lackey and junior Christina Morris who both saw playing time late last season. Arnold said Trojans who played mainly on junior varsity last season or some freshmen maybe asked to play on the right side.
The Trojans also return a solid group of back-row players including last season’s libero Bina, Schlehuber, and Koons.
Hillsboro should be tested immediately with the CKL preseason tournament at Kingman.
“It won’t be anything easy,” Arnold said.
Arnold is also looking forward to the Trojan Classic where Hillsboro may host Conway Springs, Minneapolis, Rock Creek, Pratt, and Circle.
During difficult tournaments, the Trojans can draw strength from the camaraderie they began to build this offseason. Arnold characterized the team as vocally and positively supportive of each other.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that they’re emotional, very enthusiastic,” Arnold said. “It comes natural; it doesn’t take much for them to get excited.”
An example of this excitement was evident at practice Friday. During drills the Trojan varsity starters, loudly cheered on their junior varsity teammates.
“They’ve gelled together,” Arnold said. “They’re excited about getting to play.”