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Great season for Ellis so far

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Great season for Ellis so far

Published on -10/17/2012, 10:41 AM

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ELLIS -- On Sept. 8, the Ellis High School volleyball team played in its first tournament of the season at Otis-Bison High School. Ellis defeated Kinsley, but lost to Victoria, 25-18, 25-15. After that, the Railroaders responded with a close victory against Otis-Bison and a three-set win versus Winona-Triplains in the semifinals. In the championship, the Railers came back and defeated Victoria, 25-16, 25-22 in the title.

"That was the best game ever," senior setter Bailey Hensley said.

The turnaround and title match showed third-year coach Ellen Dreyer, a former Fort Hays State University defensive specialist, the Railers could have a special season.

"We just played better and better throughout the whole game," Dreyer said. "We were excited. Every single point that we got, we were jumping up and down. For me, that's when I realized that we were really going to do things and get really far this year."

Six weeks later, Hensley still breaks into a big smile when she thinks about the Victoria match.

"That was like the best feeling ever," Hensley said. "I just can't forget it. I didn't even realize that we were playing Victoria. It was just the way that we were all clicking together and working together."

The Railers' strong chemistry and talent has helped Ellis bounce back from adversity and continually post victories all season. Ellis is 27-6 entering the difficult Class 2A Oberlin sub-state this Saturday. It marks the most victories in school history, according to Dreyer's research. The Railers finished 15-12 in Dreyer's first season and 12-15 last year.

"We have some off games, but normally we always come back and we realize that we are a team," senior Ashley Lopez said.

"When we are all on, I think like we can beat any team that they put in front of us."

Ellis has hasn't reached state volleyball since 2001 when it finished 23-10. Since then, the Railers have two state appearances in girls' basketball, including a runner-up finish in 2009, and the first state berth in softball last spring. The Oberlin sub-state features Hill City, ranked No. 5 in Class 2A in the Oct. 10 coaches' rankings. Oberlin, Ellis and Smith Center are all receiving votes.

"It would be so awesome. I know we are going to do it," Hensley, a three-sport standout, said of reaching state.

The Railers start a veteran group, many of whom are in at least its second year of starting.

"They have an all-around good team," Quinter coach Katie Blackwill said. "They don't really have a weak link. They have great passers, they have great setters and they have more than one hitter."

Hensley, formerly a libero, moved to setter two seasons ago. Lopez, senior Candace Bollig, junior Kaleigh Soneson and freshman Alexcia Deutscher form a strong front row. Deutscher leads the team in kills, and Soneson and Bollig are second and third, respectively.

"It's just crazy," Hensley said. "We have come so far. Our hitters, our front row is just so amazing. If I have a bad set, they will put it down no matter what. It's awesome."

Bollig broke her ring finger on her right (hitting) hand last week and tried to hit left-handed in the first match of the Mid-Continent League tournament last Saturday, but then switched back to hitting right-handed. She practiced with a bandage Monday and will play this weekend.

"It was just too hard to left-handed," Bollig said. " ... On Saturday, it hurt pretty bad."

Junior Sidney Gottschalk also starts, and sophomore Stephanie Greenway is the libero.

"By far, they have such a tremendous leader and setter with the Hensley girl," Stockton coach Mark Wildeman said. "But with the addition of the Deutscher girl as a freshman, I think has really boosted their confidence as a power team, because she is such a powerful hitter and when she is on, she just really adds a lot of dimensions. The engine starts and stops with the Hensley girl as the setter. She is one of the best setters in the league."

Deutscher was well known in the younger ranks in volleyball, basketball and track. She has a 24-inch vertical jump and is known for her powerful hits.

"When she is on the court in the front row and she is having a really good game, it really brings up everyone else's confidence," Bollig said. "When she is hitting hard, we all kind of fall back to, if she is hitting hard, we all try to hit hard, too."

Dreyer, from Colorado, transferred from Northwestern (Iowa) College to Fort Hays and played for two years as a reserve defensive specialist. Before the 2010 season, Ellis principal Corey Burton called Fort Hays coach Kurt Kohler and asked if the Tigers had any recent graduates who wanted to coach. Kohler mentioned Dreyer, who interviewed for the job.

When asked what her strengths and weaknesses were, Dreyer said her strength was she had played a lot of volleyball.

Her weakness? She had never coached before. Still, Dreyer knew she wanted to stay with the sport and needed to pay for two more years of college. As Dreyer drove home from her interview, Ellis called and offered the job. An art/sculpture major, Dreyer said she will likely move in January to Indiana, where her dad lives.

He has plenty of land and can help with her metal sculpture work. However, Dreyer said she could come back next fall, and "live in somebody's basement for three months" and coach a team she really enjoys.

"I fell in the love with the girls as soon as I started coaching them," Dreyer said. "I was like 'These girls are awesome.' They have a great energy. They want to work hard and get better."

Dreyer had young teams in her first two seasons, including last fall's squad that had just one senior. This season's senior class has carried the team.

"This year, we realized how much we needed a leader and so we all just kind of stood up and did it, and so everyone just kind of looks up to us," Bollig said.

"With this core, it's really hard to get down to not win games," Dreyer added. "When you have such strong leaders, it's very hard to do anything but the best."

The experience has helped the team move past fundamentals and work on technical aspects this season. One area that Dreyer has stressed is passing. One of Dreyer's mantras is "It starts with the pass, it starts with the pass."

"We work on it a lot," Dreyer said. "It's really making the exact movements that we need to get a perfect pass every single time and I usually have a box taped out on the floor on where exactly they need to be passing the ball."

After the Victoria championship -- a match where Bollig, Soneson, Lopez and Deutscher all finished with at least three kills -- the Railers won six of its next seven matches. At MCL last weekend, Ellis lost to Smith Center and took Hill City to three sets in a defeat. This weekend, though, the Railers believe they can top a record-breaking season with a state berth.

"I would never forget it," Hensley said.

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