It was just another normal Hillsboro volleyball practice Friday, filled with spikes, sets, digs, and players walking around with closed eyes and outstretched arms barking like dogs and mooing like cows, blindly searching for others making the same sound.
Volleyball is serious business for the Trojans. They’re gunning for an eighth consecutive trip to the state tournament and another championship to go along with three earned during coach Sandy Arnold’s tenure.
The necessity of focus and intensity during practices is a given when pursuing such a lofty goal, but lighthearted moments help to keep attitudes positive and fun; hence the animal sounds.
“It was spontaneous, but I’ve done it before,” Arnold said. “It was a way to get them into groups. I’m sure the seniors were thinking, ‘Oh, not again.’”
Tough practices beget another type of fun, the kind that comes from getting better, Arnold said.
“When they start to see themselves do the things that are difficult, when they have success doing those things, it definitely makes it more fun because they’re going to be more successful as individual players and as a team,” she said.
Success this season will begin with senior Alex Ratzlaff. The outside hitter has been all-league, all-tournament, and all-state first-team in each of her three prior seasons. Senior Shannon Heiser earned those same honors last season, and returns as middle blocker.
“These two will lead the way with their offensive and defensive skills, as well as their passing,” Arnold said.
Junior Rebecca Kaufman and sophomore Abby Sechrist also are projected by Arnold as starters.
Defense and passing are essential to having an explosive offense, Arnold said, and among the six players lost to graduation were two setters.
“We will be looking for players to fill those vacancies,” Arnold said. “We have girls who can set, just few with experience.”
Marah Franz and newcomer Tassanee Sanchez are seniors vying for playing time, as are juniors Callie Linnens, Paige Proffitt, Brittany Schale, Savannah Unruh, and transfer Phoebe Hett.
Hillsboro will face stiff league competition from Hesston, Sterling, and Kingman, but the Trojans again will step up in class to play against teams from larger schools to test their skills and character, Arnold said.
“We will be heading back to the Southeast of Saline tournament that boasts some big competition,” she said. “Our third tournament is at McPherson, where we will face a number of larger schools in Goddard, Salina Central, Bishop Carroll, and McPherson.”
Hillsboro’s invitational tournament sets up potential bouts with Minneapolis, Rock Creek, Circle, or Augusta.
Arnold said she’s counting on returning players to “stay hungry” as the team goes through the growing pains of integrating new players, keeping their eyes on another postseason run.
“Once we can overcome the newness of the team and get stronger and better in our roles, we could hopefully be a team to contend with and make a strong run at the end of the season,” Arnold said.