The Hillsboro High School volleyball team had not been tested all night Thursday before the first game in their third match against Southeast of Saline.
The Trojans had a 9-7 lead early in the contest, but SES maintained its persistence; the purple Trojans tied the game at 10. SES senior Alex Hogue fielded a blistering outside hit by Tena Loewen. The play led to a tip over Hillsboro defenders by McKenna White that gave SES its first lead.
“They kind of caught us off guard with tips,” Hillsboro setter Callie Serene said.
Building on a three-serve streak by Hogue, SES stretched its lead to 20-13. During that sequence, head coach Sandy Arnold said the Trojans seemed flustered and were not communicating well with one another.
“Our mind wasn’t set,” Arnold said. “We knew they lost to Moundridge and we beat Moundridge. We did not play our game at all.”
Hillsboro’s game is defined by crisp passes that flutter directly to the setter and accurate sets floating high to allow Hillsboro hitters to punish the ball with a downward strike. The Trojans had effectively executed that game plan in the first two matches Thursday.
SES was also playing differently than Moundridge and Marion had earlier in the evening. Arnold said the purple Trojans were unorthodox with their offensive approach; not every play was pass, set, and hit.
To throw off Loewen and the Hillsboro hitters, SES overplayed to the left side of the court. SES was tipping more to make Hillsboro passers uncomfortable who were playing in the back row. They were overplaying up to take away the front side of the court on hits.
“We changed our tactics,” Arnold said.
Loewen led a comeback attempt with three consecutive aces on jump serves deep into the SES court. Serene and middle hitter Krista Reimer also scored during the run to close the gap to 20-23. The comeback attempt sputtered on the final two points and SES took the first game, 20-25.
“We knew if we played our game we would be fine,” Serene said.
Hillsboro’s game started at the backline on serves. With the score at an 8-5 Hillsboro advantage in the second game, hitter Danae Bina put together 12 consecutive serves, including two aces. The Trojan lead ballooned to 20-6. Hillsboro finished off the first game, 25-20.
In the third game, hitter Maci Schlehuber completed an 11-serve run with an ace that gave Hillsboro a 14-6 lead. Hillsboro eventually won, 25-13.
“We serve with purpose,” Arnold said. “We try to get where they can jump and put it in place.”
Hillsboro also adjusted its defense, putting more players at the net for blocks and bringing up the back row to prepare for tips. The Trojans recorded six blocks in the match, including two each for Loewen and Reimer.
More offensive opportunities were set to Reimer, who ended the match with six kills, and outside hitter Addie Lackey, who had four.
Lackey was one of three Trojan hitters who contributed Thursday. Loewen had 27 kills in three matches and Reimer had 12. The hitters made Serene’s job easier.
“It helps to have good outside hitters,” Serene said.
Unlike the first game with SES, the Trojans defeated Marion, 25-10 and 25-17, and Moundridge, 25-11 and 25-19, by playing their game.
Serene executed the offense with precision in the first two matches. The cross-court sets to Loewen were placed where a left-side double block would be ineffective.
“We practice that a lot,” Serene said of cross-court sets.
Arnold and Serene were both surprised with Lackey’s performance throughout the day. The sophomore passed accurately from the back row in matches against Marion and Moundridge.
Her hitting improved throughout the day. In multiple spikes against SES, Lackey was able to guide strikes around double blocks to the placement on the floor away from defenders.
“She jumps high, too,” Arnold said of the reason Lackey has good vision on hits.
Lackey’s talent was not a surprise; the surprise was the fact that Lackey could accomplish all that she did after rolling her ankle in practice Aug. 29. Arnold said she had another lineup prepared for the quadrangle until Lackey tested her wrapped ankle in warm-ups.
The Trojans did receive some welcome news on the injury front. Arnold said outside hitter Erin Loewen was released by her physician to play after she has been sidelined with an illness since Aug. 27. There is a possibility she could join the team for matches next week.
Hillsboro played Tuesday against Douglass and Hesston in Douglass and plays again 5 p.m. Thursday against Council Grove Riley County, and Herington in Hillsboro.