The Hillsboro High School volleyball team defeated Hoisington in the championship match of the 3A state tournament Saturday, 25-17 and 25-23. It is the Trojans’ first title since 1987 and it is the first state championship for head coach Sandy Arnold in more than 20 years of coaching high school volleyball.
“It’s not real yet,” senior hitter Krista Reimer said after the match was over. “It doesn’t feel real at all.”
Reimer and fellow senior starter Callie Serene took it upon themselves in the lull between the Trojans’ matches against Marysville, a 25-15 and 25-15 victory, and the rematch with the Cardinals to speak with the team.
“No one expected a fourth seed to do this, just go after it,” Reimer told her teammates.
No one expected the Trojans to win except the Trojans themselves. The confidence for Hillsboro never waned on Saturday. Serene said even as Hillsboro fell behind Hoisington, 10-13, in the second game, a thought of losing never crept into her mind.
“We’re taking down whoever is in our way,” Serene said of the Trojans attitude Saturday.
Both matches against Hoisington displayed the mettle of the Hillsboro team.
The score of the first game of the championship match was knotted at 12 when Addie Lackey submitted a six-serve steak including an ace. The run featured two Tena Loewen kills to put Hillsboro up, 18-12. Two more kills by Loewen and an ace by Serene finished the first game at, 25-17.
Lackey was the breakout performer for the Trojans during the tournament. She smashed spikes with authority all weekend, hitting either sideline with accuracy and precisely guiding strikes between two blockers.
Lackey was one of the primary contributors in both wins against the top-seeded Cardinals, recording seven kills in the first match and six in the second. She also recorded at least one dig and one block in every match of the tournament.
“I think she surprised a lot of people,” Arnold said of the sophomore hitter.
Hillsboro took an 8-3 lead in the second game before Cardinal senior Mallory Flagor put together a five-serve streak with an ace. Jordan Moore scored two kills on the streak and suddenly the score was tied at 9. Hillsboro then lost four-turn and three-turn volleys to fall behind 10-13.
The play that turned the tide of momentum for Hillsboro was a one-on-one block executed by Serene on Belle Brickley.
“I breathed a sigh of relief on that one,” Arnold said.
Serene then put together a three-serve streak with two aces, to tie the game at 15. Serene had a serving streak of at least three in every match the Trojans played.
“We will win the tournament on our serving,” Arnold told the team before the tournament began.
With the Trojans behind, 17-19, Loewen took over. She notched a diving dig to lead to her own kill, and spiked another kill to tie the game at 19. Lackey then recorded two kills, one on a possession that featured digs by Loewen and Danae Bina to tie the score at 23. Two Loewen kills ended the match and season with a victory, 25-23.
Loewen recorded 15 kills in the match. The junior hitter was only blocked cleanly once on Saturday, by Flagor on the first point of the first game. She relentlessly hammered balls into double blocks that either flew high backward past back row defenders, sideways, or down to the floor.
“She makes such good adjustments,” Reimer said of Loewen’s ability to redirect balls in the air.
“Once we find somewhere where they aren’t, she’s got it down,” Serene said of Loewen’s prowess of finding open spaces on the floor.
Whenever the Trojans needed points against Hoisington in pool play Friday, Loewen was there. She recorded 21 kills in the three-game match. She also had nine digs and six aces, submitting serving streaks of three and four.
“It was a total team effort,” Loewen said. “But, if we needed a serve or a kill, I wanted to be there.”
The Trojans lost the first game of the first match to Hoisington, 21-25, and found themselves down 6-12 in the second game.
Serene was there to pick up the team with her serving. She put together a four-serve streak, including two aces to bring Hillsboro to 11-12. Danae Bina also added a three-serve streak with an ace that eventually tied the game at 14.
Bina and Maci Schlehuber made contributions in the back row during the match, each collecting five digs. Bina had two on one play that led to a Reimer kill. Hillsboro ran away to win 25-21.
The teams traded points throughout the third game, with Hillsboro leading most of the way. But with a Flagor kill, Hoisington took the lead, 24-25, when Arnold called a timeout.
In the stoppage, Arnold challenged her players to step up.
“The Rangers were one stinking strike away from winning the World Series when somebody from the Cardinals stepped up both times,” Arnold said. “Who is going to step up for this team?”
The first player was Erin Loewen, who scored a tip after Tena Loewen could not manage to power two spikes past Cardinal passers. Hoisington forced a Trojan error to take the lead again, 25-26, and Arnold called another timeout.
“I said the exact same thing; I didn’t even change it,” she said.
Tena Loewen was the player to step up this time with a kill that hit the baseline and an ace to put Hillsboro up, 27-26. A Lackey kill ended the match; Tena Loewen had a dig on the final point.
Despite these heroics, the story of the Trojans’ state championship run is not the narrative of a plucky underdog. While Hillsboro had to come back from deficits in both matches against Hoisington and a 7-1 early lead by Douglass in its first match of the tournament, the Trojans were the most dominant team in the tournament.
Hillsboro went 5-0 in the tournament and only lost one game.
Even with the Bulldogs jumping out to a 7-1 advantage in the first match, the Trojans defeated Douglass, 25-12 and 25-12. Tena Loewen put together a 15-serve streak including three aces in the first game that changed the score from 1-7 to 18-7.
“I love it when teams take a sigh of relief when Tena goes back to serve,” Arnold said. “To hit the ball 15 times and not miss one is amazing.”
During that streak, Addie Lackey recorded many of her nine kills for the match.
The Trojans put up an even more lopsided score against Wellsville in their second match on Friday, winning 25-9 and 25-19. Loewen had 12 kills in the contest, seven aces, and put together serving streaks of five, six, and three. Reimer also had five kills and four blocks.
However, the Trojans saved their best volleyball for Saturday. Although the score against Marysville in the semifinals was not as lopsided as it was to either Douglass or Wellsville, the team’s determination and effort were on full display against the Bulldogs.
With a serving streak of five by Serene, including two aces, Hillsboro took a 7-1 lead and never looked back. With another steak of five by Reimer, also with two aces, Hillsboro took a commanding 18-9 lead.
The second game was more difficult for Hillsboro, they won four and three-turn volleys to take the lead 7-3. Reimer took over when the score was 15-9 recording three consecutive block kills and then notching a kill to put Hillsboro up 19-11. She then added an ace.
“I thought against Marysville, we looked pretty good,” Arnold said. “I wanted them to focus on Marysville; I didn’t want to worry about the other court.”