Finish season 43-1
The road wasn’t always smooth, but the Hillsboro Trojans won their third state volleyball championship in a row over the weekend, going 5-0 at the 2A tournament in Emporia after winning the previous two state championships in 3A.
“It’s super hard,” head coach Sandy Arnold said. “The expectations are so high.”
When Hillsboro was reclassified as a 2A school earlier this fall, Arnold said some observers expected the Trojans to steamroll over the state competition, but she said there are some great opponents in 2A.
And those opponents tested the Trojans early and often. Opponents led in 9 of the 11 sets the Trojans played, but Hillsboro came back to win all but one set.
“I’m sure there were some nerves on the team, but there was really good competition, too,” senior Addie Lackey said.
The tournament began with pool play on Friday. Hillsboro faced Meade, Jefferson County North, and Mission Valley, with the top two teams advancing to the semifinals on Saturday.
The Meade Buffaloes entered the tournament with an 18-18 record, but they stuck with the Trojans early in the first set, as both teams struggled to win service points. Hillsboro led only 12-11 before extending a lead, finally winning the set 25-17 with a block by Lakyn Johnson and Shannon Heiser.
The second set wasn’t nearly as close. Hillsboro scored first on a spike by Lackey, and Meade never managed to even tie the score after that. The Trojans went on a seven-point service streak that included four aces by Alex Ratzlaff to create a 16-3 cushion. Hillsboro won 25-6, ending the match with an ace by Lackey, a block by Emily Jost, and a spike by Ratzlaff.
Jefferson County North
The Jefferson County North Chargers led by as many as four points, 10-6, before the Trojans made a comeback in the first set. Two spikes by Lackey, a block by Jost, and an error by the Chargers tied the set at 10.
The Chargers replied with a three-point streak to retake the lead. The teams traded points until the Chargers couldn’t return Johnson’s serve, tying the match at 17. Hillsboro took the lead for good on a spike by Lackey. The Trojans won by as narrow a margin as possible, 25-23, on a spike by Ratzlaff.
The second set was another tight contest, although Hillsboro held a lead from 7-6 on. Senior Maddi Duerksen served two aces early on, including one that landed just inside the back corner to give Hillsboro its first lead in the set.
Ratzlaff was spiking the ball with enough force that the Chargers sometimes sent three blockers against her, and even that didn’t always work. She hit winners serving, attacking from the back row, and spiking at the net, including the match-winner, 25-20.
Hillsboro built an early lead in the first set with a six-point streak with Danae Bina serving. The Vikings struggled to chip away at the Trojans’ lead, which Hillsboro extended to 14-6. Duerksen hit another ace in the corner, then almost everyone on the court made saves to keep a play alive before a Viking player hit a spike out of bounds, giving Hillsboro a 19-10 lead. The Trojans won 25-14 when a Mission Valley serve sailed past the endline.
The Vikings responded in the second set, rallying to a 9-5 lead with hard spikes through Hillsboro blocks. Hillsboro made a comeback of its own, tying the game at 12 on a spike by Jost and taking the lead at 13-12 with a spike by Lackey following a save by Jost.
Hillsboro extended the lead to 19-15, but the Vikings went on a nine-point run of spikes, blocks, and tips to lead 24-19. A spike by Ratzlaff broke up the streak, but another Viking spike ended the set at 25-20. It was the only set the Trojans lost in the tournament.
Lackey hit an ace just short of the endline, even though the Vikings had five players back, to start the third set. Neither team built a lead of more than a point until Lackey tipped the ball almost parallel to the net to take a 7-5 lead. The Trojans started to pull away, going on an eight-point streak that included a block by Ratzlaff and Jost, tips by Jost and Ratzlaff, and a spike by Ratzlaff on a cross-court set by substitute setter Shelley Arnold.
Hillsboro extended its lead to 12 on a spike by Ratzlaff that was so forceful it bounced over the 8-foot wall surrounding the court and into the stands. Hillsboro won the set and the match, 25-13, with a spike down the sideline by Lackey on a set from Julie Sinclair.
The victory sent Hillsboro to the semifinals on Saturday.
Hillsboro faced the Smith Center Redmen in the semifinals. The Redmen were the overall No. 2 seed entering the tournament.
The first set started off back-and-forth, with both teams developing small leads. With the Redmen bracing for hard-hit spikes, Hillsboro scored several points on tips and lofted hits. The Redmen led by as much as 13-9 before Hillsboro made a comeback, tying the match at 14.
Smith Center responded by retaking a three-point lead. Hillsboro tied the match at 17 and edged out a 25-22 victory. Lackey hit winners on Hillsboro’s final eight points, including six spikes, a tip over a block, and a double block with Jost.
“I felt really good,” Lackey said of her play in the tournament.
Hillsboro built a 9-5 lead early in the second set, but Smith Center tied the game at 11 with back-to-back tips, before taking a 13-11 lead. The Trojans tied the set at 14 with a Ratzlaff spike through a block attempt.
An ace by Duerksen gave Hillsboro the lead, which it would hold on to the rest of the set. The Trojans won eight points on Duerksen’s serve, including a double block by Johnson and Jost, a spike by Ratzlaff, and a solo block by Jost. Hillsboro won 25-17 to advance to the finals for a rematch with Jefferson County North.
The Trojans and Chargers again proved to be nearly evenly matched, as they traded one- and two-point leads until the Chargers built a three-point lead at 13-10. The lead wouldn’t last, though, as Hillsboro came back to take a 15-13 lead with a spike by Ratzlaff just short of the endline, an ace by Duerksen, and a few Charger errors.
The Chargers retook the lead at 18-17, but Hillsboro went on a six-point run with Ratzlaff serving to lead 24-18. The streak included an ace, four Lackey spikes, a Heiser spike, and a discussion between Bina and a referee after a Ratzlaff ace was overturned and replayed. The streak ended with a serve into the net, but Lackey ended the set with a spike, 25-19.
It looked like the Trojans might run away with the second set when they took an 8-5 lead, but the Chargers weren’t finished, tying the set at 8. Hillsboro retook the lead, but were only able to build on it slowly as Charger hitters Jamie Navinskey and Jacee Kramer kept Jefferson County North in it.
Bina scored an ace on a lobbed serve that fell just fair inside the endline, and Ratzlaff had an ace on a hard-hit serve that clipped the net and rolled over thanks to the topspin Ratzlaff puts on the ball.
The Trojans eventually went on a streak with Johnson serving, including a spike by Heiser and a tip by Lackey, to lead 21-13. Ratzlaff finished the championship with a spike down the sideline and another up the middle. Hillsboro won the set, 25-17, and the state 2A championship.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” said Duerksen, who was part of the team but didn’t play at state the past two years as it won championships.
Lackey said everyone on the team made great plays to help win the title.
“I’m so excited to play with my teammates in the state championship,” she said.
Bina, who was disappointed earlier in the season when Hillsboro was reclassified as 2A, said she thought the Trojans were good enough they could have beaten 3A champion Silver Lake.
“I would put this team up against them any day of the week,” she said.
It was the final high school volleyball tournament for Bina, Lackey, Duerksen, and fellow senior Taylor Vogt.
“I’m obviously devastated my high school volleyball career is over, but I’m glad it went out with a bang,” Bina said.
Sandy Arnold said the team relied a lot this season on Bina’s vocal leadership after losing some of last year’s leaders. She said Bina keeps spirits up and rebounds well from mistakes and misfortune.
“She’s the glue, especially this year,” Arnold said.
Duerksen expressed confidence that the 2014 team will continue to do well, despite the departure of the seniors. Ratzlaff, Heiser, and Jost will continue to be major contributors at the net, and Sinclair and Shelley Arnold have what it takes to set for those players, she said.
“There’s two really good setters after me,” Duerksen said.