The Hillsboro High School volleyball team does not play David to too many Goliaths in any season. Even when the Trojans are underdogs, the talent-level between the two teams is usually comparable.
However, that was not the case Thursday on senior night in Hillsboro against Newton. The Trojans have yet to defeat the 5A powerhouse in meetings the past two years, and this was the best incarnation of the Railer squad.
The Trojans showed tenacity in a losing effort to Newton, 22-25 and 20-25, in their second match.
The Railers entered the night with only one loss on their record, 22-1, and ranked third in the state in 5A. They featured four players who were all 5 feet 10 inches or taller.
“We talked about beating a giant,” head coach Sandy Arnold said. “We’ll never get a chance to do this again.”
With the senior night ceremonies completed between matches, the Trojans appeared loose, smiling while warming up, after defeating Great Bend, 25-13 and 27-25.
“We came out ready to play,” Serene said. “I think we were all just really pumped.”
The match began with a five-turn volley, which featured multiple Newton blocks. Eventually Hiebert won the point with a middle-hit kill.
Because of their height and athleticism, the Railers were the best blocking team the Trojans have faced all season. Loewen, especially was stymied at the net, often needing multiple hits to score.
“We knew they were going to have blocks; we knew they were athletic. She was trying,” Arnold said of Loewen. “Sometimes we get caught watching her because she finds the floor so often.”
The Trojans made the adjustment and moved up their defense to pass the ball off blocks. As a team, the Trojans submitted one of their best defensive performances against Newton. Front line players like Reimer, Lackey, Tena, and Erin Loewen were present at the net with blocks. Back row players, like Serene, Danae Bina, Sammy Koons, and Maddi Duerksen were there to get on their knees and dig the balls to a setter.
It was Duerksen’s first action for the Trojan varsity squad with Maci Schlehuber out with an illness. Arnold thought the sophomore played well in spot duty for Koons and Bina.
Serene recorded four digs against Newton for a team high.
“It’s so much easier when the ball is coming at 70 mph instead of 150,” Arnold said.
Lackey’s passing, especially on Hiebert’s jump serve was also smooth and true, Arnold said.
However, the Railers also passed the ball well, especially Rachel Volk, who was more adept at spinning Tena Loewen spikes high into the air than any other opponent the Trojans have faced. Newton won two three-turn volleys, and Hiebert notched three kills; one through a Hillsboro double block to give Newton a 13-7 advantage.
A lesser team might have folded with a six-point deficit, but Arnold continued to encourage her team. The Trojans started their comeback with Reimer kill over the middle and a two-serve streak by the Hillsboro middle hitter, which led to an Erin Loewen kill.
Tena Loewen ended up recording nine kills against Newton, but she had to work much harder for those kills than in previous matches. Reimer recorded five kills against the Railers.
“I think Krista had an amazing night,” Serene said.
Serene also added a dig on a backline hit by Hiebert, which Tena Loewen finished with a kill. The Trojans then won a three-turn volley. Hillsboro cut the deficit to1, 21-20, forcing a Newton timeout.
After the stoppage, Loewen recorded two consecutive kills to tie the score at 22, the first tie of the game.
“We really were mentally prepared,” Serene said. “We thought we could win.”
Two forced misplays by Tena Loewen, a long hit and a hit into the net with double blocks looming, gave Newton a 24-22 advantage. Loescher ended the game with a kill in the middle of the court.
The second game started with two four-turn volleys and a three-turn sequence.
Koons and Bina came up with digs on awkward richochets on consecutive possessions but Jocelyn Cochran got a kill to put the Railers up 10-11.
Hillsboro then forced Newton to play a four-turn volley and won consecutive points on errors to regain the lead 12-11. But, Newton bounced back with a tip by Hiebert and a kill by Caitlyn Wedel to take a 15-12 lead.
Tena Loewen worked to respond. On a well-placed set by Serene, she rocketed a ball down the left sideline directly at Cochran. A mystery to Arnold, Cochran was able to play the ball straight up into the air and Newton scored the point.
The Railers were not able to gain momentum. Seeming to lose her legs, Hiebert hit consecutive balls into the net to bring the score to a 17-16 Railer advantage.
“Maybe they weren’t used to playing close games,” Arnold said.
The Railers have played multiple matches that have gone to three games, including their one loss to Maize. The difference against Hillsboro was the Trojans were making Newton earn points on long volleys. As the three and four-turn volleys continued to stack up, the Railers were beginning to tire.
“I felt like we were wearing them down,” Serene said.
That is when Loeschner took over, scoring two kills to give Newton a 21-18 lead.
“She was killing us in the corner,” Arnold said pointing to the front right corner of the court.
Loewen recorded another kill on a back-row hit for Hillsboro but it was not enough to overcome Newton’s talent. Loeschner ended the game with a kill, 25-20.
“I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy,” Serene said. “It was just tiny mistakes; you had to be on you’re ‘A’ game.”
Hillsboro defeated Great Bend, another 5A opponent, in the first match Thursday. Tena Loewen ended the first game with five aces, four consecutive, during a six-serve streak, ending the contest at 25-13.
She recorded, seven aces, eight kills and four digs in the match.
In the second game against the Panthers, the Trojans did not execute as sharply. After a 9-9 tie, the Panthers capitalized on deft passing to build a 14-10 advantage. Hillsboro eventually reclaimed the lead 19-17.
But, Great Bend battled back and the game was tied at 21.
Lackey then came up with two plays in the same volley. She played a tip off a Hillsboro block and lobbed the ball deep into Panther territory. Great Bend was surprised with the ball’s placement and could not land a hit on the Hillsboro side. With an easy pass and set, Lackey slammed home a back-line kill.
Several plays later, a Great Bend tip landed beyond Loewen’s diving hand to give the Panthers a 24-25 lead. Arnold threw her clipboard to the floor in disgust after the play. She had told her team repeatedly to watch for tips. It was a rare outburst for the usually positive coach.
“Maybe it got their attention,” Arnold said of the team. “They all knew that that was something they would try.”
With a dig by Lackey on the serve, Loewen punished the ball to eventually tie the score at 25. With a two-serve streak, Loewen again ended the Panthers’ game from the back line. Reimer notched a kill on the first point and then Loewen recorded a kill on the second.
“I’ll say O.K.,” Arnold said of her team’s second-game performance against Great Bend, an upgrade from saying it was one of the worst games the team played all year. “It’s been a tough week.”
The Trojans had defeated Sterling, 25-12 and 25-13, and Hesston, 17-25, 25-17, and 25-22, Tuesday.
The Trojans host the Hillsboro Trojan Invitational Tournament Oct. 15, which features Minneapolis and Circle. For the last triangular of the season, Hillsboro faces Hutch Trinity and Sedgwick on Tuesday in Sedgwick.
Substate teams have also been announced for Oct. 22 in Marion. The teams include the Warriors, Southeast of Saline, Moundridge, Sedgwick, Sacred Heart, Remington, and Halstead.