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Hoagland keys 4-0 start for Tigers

Published on -9/7/2012, 10:07 AM

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Tears form in Fort Hays State University sophomore middle hitter Kylee Hoagland's eyes as she thinks about her dad, Larry. Kylee and her dad bonded through volleyball. He came to every game and took her to every club volleyball practice that was 45 minutes away. Larry played volleyball himself and built a court at the family's home. Larry participated in sand and grass volleyball tournaments, including some with Kylee and her brother, Landan.

On July 23, Larry passed away at the age of 55 after a bout with a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

"He is always going to be in my heart, and I am always going to be reminded of him every time I touch a volleyball," Hoagland said.

Hoagland, a returning all-MIAA honorable mention player, also practiced little in the preseason because of recurring knee issues. She was cleared to practice just a few days before FHSU's season-opening Oklahoma Panhandle State tournament last week. Hoagland played well as the Tigers started 4-0 for the first time since 2004. After two 3-0 victories, FHSU defeated Fort Lewis (Colo.) and Southern Arkansas 3-2.

"I always know that my dad and my mom always try to come to everything that they can and my mom is still going to try, and I know that my dad is going to be at every match with me," Hoagland said.

Hoagland finished with a team-high 2.94 kills and hit .279, second-best on the team (minimum 20 attacks). She and junior middle hitter Jenna Ulrich, also a returning all-MIAA honorable mention selection, led a strong blocking effort. Hoagland averaged 0.69 blocks per set, while Ulrich led with 1.25.

"She is a good player, and good players can refine a few things, but she knows what she is doing," fourth-year coach Kurt Kohler said of Hoagland. "She is very coachable, she is easy to work with, so it helps that we can create opportunities for her on the block. She doesn't have to be in every practice to still get good.

"She pays attention when she is sitting out, or asks the right questions, and she is always ready to do what we need her to do," he added. "She is going to have a great year for us and we are excited that she is back and ready to do what she can."

Sophomore Taylor Mares earned the starting job as the right side hitter and hit .253 with 32 kills. Junior Makenzie Weinman, starting for the first time at libero, paced the team with 5.25 digs per set. This weekend, FHSU travels to the Holiday Inn Crossroads Classic in Grand Junction, Colo. Fort Hays will play five matches, including three today. It's a step up in competition from last weekend, especially today. The three opponents are a combined 12-1, including No. 24 Grand Canyon University.

"Still have a lot of improvement to do," Kohler said. "We can't get cocky about it. I want the confidence, but not the cockiness. We've still got to come in and work hard everyday."

One of the pluses from last weekend was strong play in the fifth set. Last year, FHSU went 5-6 in five-set matches, but started 2-0 last weekend. Against Fort Lewis, Fort Hays started out with a 6-0 lead and rolled to a 15-7 victory. Southern Arkansas kept the fifth set close, but FHSU never trailed after 3-3 and won 15-12.

"Winning those last two five-game sets was huge for us," Hoagland said.

Hoagland, from Mead, Colo., always knew she was going to return to the team even after her dad passed away.

"I love volleyball, and it is my passion," she said.

She received plenty of support from her teammates, especially Weinman, during the difficult and emotional time.

"My teammates have been behind me this whole entire time and really supported me and helped me through it," Hoagland said.

Hoagland hit .409 with 12 kills in the season-opening match versus University of the Southwest and then delivered nine kills and a .600 hitting percentage versus Bacone College. Against Fort Lewis and Southern Arkansas, she combined for 26 kills and seven blocks.

"It's hard," Hoagland said. "That first match, it was hard not having my dad in the stands. I had a few little moments where I got teared up."

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