Hill City survives pool play in Emporia, takes third
Published on -10/28/2012, 7:45 PM
By ZACH HACKER
Special to The Hays Daily News
EMPORIA -- The objective was simple for the Hill City volleyball team as it went into its final match of pool play at the Class 2A State Volleyball Tournament Friday in Emporia: win and move on.
The Ringnecks did just that by overcoming a 25-23 first set loss to Kiowa County to take victories of 25-19 and 25-14 to advance to Saturday's semifinals.
"When we just go out, play volleyball and have fun we are a good team," said Hill City coach Alan Stein. "We came out slow but once we settled down and just playing volleyball we started playing a lot better."
Coming into the match, the Ringnecks were 1-1 after starting the day with a 25-20, 25-19 loss to Jefferson County North but rebounding with a 25-20, 25-22 win against Pratt-Skyline. With Skyline at 1-2 and Kiowa County 0-2 entering the final overall match of pool play, the Ringnecks knew a win against the Mavericks would punch a ticket to the semifinals. A loss would have resulted in a three-way tie and their fate would have been left up to the set-win tiebreaker.
Hill City came out sluggish in the first set, falling in an early 7-4 hole. Slowly it began to chip away at the lead and eventually took the lead after back-to-back kills by McKenzie Cooper made it 14-13. The Mavericks wouldn't go away, however, and responded with a 9-3 run that put them back in command at 22-19 before Darrien Collins slammed a kill for Hill City to shift the serve back to her team. Although the Ringnecks made it a one-point game at 24-23, Kiowa County was able to get the final point it needed to close out a 25-23 win.
"In the first set we just seemed to be a step behind everything," Stein said. "Our bodies weren't in good position to pass and everything was just out of rhythm. When we picked it up in the second set, we were digging balls, our blocking was really good and that gave our passers time to get in position even when they did attack."
Senior Nicole Keith set the tone early in the second set for Hill City with back-to-back kills to open the set. Although the Mavericks were able to recover enough to take leads at 10-9 and 11-10, Keith continued her strong play at the net with a stuff block and kill to tie it up in both instances. The big plays helped keep some of the momentum in the Ringnecks' favor and they were eventually able to go on a 7-0 run to build a 22-16 lead en route to a 25-19 win in the second set to force a rubber match.
"We thought about how it could be our last game and we just didn't want to let that happen," Keith said. "Our passing improved, our hitting improved, our setting improved; it just all came together."
Hill City left no doubt in the deciding set. Some precision serving courtesy of Tiffany Russell helped the Ringnecks build an early 5-0 lead before the Mavericks were able to get anything going. Still up big in the middle of the set, Collins took over at the net with three thundering kills that kept her team in control at 15-9 before Keith added another kill and stuff block late as the Ringnecks ended the match on a 7-0 surge to run away with a 25-14 and advance to the semifinals.
Keith said having plenty of other powerful options at the net kept helps out her game and is a huge advantage for her team.
"It's nice to have that variety up front because it really challenges the other team," she said. "The blockers don't know what direction the hit's going to be coming from and they're never able to get in position."
It's the farthest Hill City has advanced in the state tournament with Stein at the helm.
"We're extremely excited," Keith said. "We're excited to go this far in our senior year. We don't want to have any regrets and know that it's time to play now. There's no tomorrow in high school volleyball for us seniors so we're going to play our hearts out."
Ringnecks take third
After surviging the day Friday, the Ringnecks went on to finish third in Class 2A, the highest finish for Hill City in Stein's 10 seasons. After losing to Washington County in Saturday's semifinals, Hill City bounced back to get a win against Jefferson Co. North, 25-13, 15-25, 25-19 in the third-place match.