Hillsboro High School head volleyball coach Sandy Arnold said her team has been tested a lot mentally over the past two weeks, especially with their fourth and fifth games against rival Hesston. She told her team to be prepared to have its skills tested.
The first of those tests came against 5A schools Great Bend and Newton on Thursday in Great Bend.
The Trojans defeated Great Bend without any issue, 25-14 and 25-11. Led by Tena Loewen, the Trojans built leads with aggressive serving.
“T’s top spin got them,” Arnold said.
Hillsboro was also able to handle Great Bend’s talented middle hitter with blocking by Erin Loewen, Taylor Thiessen, and Maci Schlehuber.
The much tougher test of the night came against state-ranked Newton. Arnold said her team was nervous in the first game facing the vaunted Newton lineup featuring 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter Abbie Lehman and dynamic 5-11 hitter and setter Emily Hiebert, who was comfortable hitting and blocking over the middle or from the left side of the court. Arnold knows both players have signed to play volleyball with Wichita State University.
“Playing a team that has four or five good hitters, you have to be on your toes all the time,” Arnold said.
The Trojans were frustrated by being blocked by a tall and athletic team; Newton has 10 players who are 5-9 or taller. Arnold felt the team shrank back on defense a little too much. They lost the first game, 25-16.
“When you’re on the defensive so much, eventually they’re going to kill it,” Arnold said.
Hillsboro responded in the second game by making hitting adjustments, attempting to hit directionally into blocks or tip to open spaces. With the nerves settled, the Trojans battled in the back-and-forth game and tied the score at 23-23. With Addie Lackey serving, the Trojans scored the final two points to take the second game, 25-23.
“The second two games we were pretty wound up,” Arnold said.
The third game was close up until point 10 when Newton was able to pull away by five points. Trading shots, the Trojans could never pull the score any closer and fell to Newton, 25-18.
In general, Arnold was pleased with the effort from her team. She praised the defensive effort from Tena Loewen, Danae Bina, and Schlehuber. She said Schlehuber and Erin Loewen came up with key blocks in the contest. The Trojans responded when Newton made mistakes, when the 5A team seem more human.
She told her team that if they played the way they did against Newton against 3A teams, that they would be unstoppable. The learning experience against the Railers was how to respond to getting blocked, to adjust to the hitting of the other team, missing a few serves, and battling in long rallies for hard-fought points. It was a lesson in how to fight like an underdog, even though the Trojans will be favored in every match for the remainder of the season.
“As long as we learn from it, that’s a good loss,” Arnold said.