Leopard fans buzzing about state berth
By NICK SCHWIEN
La CROSSE -- Leopard fans are accustomed to having something to cheer about during the fall.
La Crosse High School football has been a perennial power in the Class 2-1A ranks for the past several years. This year is no different.
But this week, the focus is on the girls' volleyball team -- which advanced to the Class 1A Division I state tournament Friday in Hays.
"Everyone is super excited because it's kind of unchartered territory for us," La Crosse USD 395 Superintendent Bill Keeley said. "In football, it's kind of expected now. ... For volleyball, there's tremendous excitement, and there's a great buzz around town."
The volleyball team last made state in 2004, but the Leopards went 0-3 that season in Class 1A. Since, the 1A classification has split into two divisions -- one for smaller schools and one for larger schools in the category.
Before 2004, the Leopards made state volleyball in 2A in 1985.
"There's been a lot of excitement in the community," said Keeley, who mentioned the district won't have school Friday. "Everyone is really proud of them. And they are a very young team with only two seniors."
La Crosse advanced to state by winning the Lincoln sub-state. The Leopards were the No. 3 seed at the tourney but beat the host school in the semifinals before taking a three-game thriller against Macksville in the title match.
"It's exciting," said La Crosse city clerk Kim Jay, who was at the sub-state. "The girls did wonderful."
La Crosse enters state with a 16-20 overall record as the No. 8 seed. The Leopards are the only team with a losing record in the tourney.
The team will play top-seeded Caldwell at 8:30 a.m. Friday, followed by other pool-play matches against Spearville and Goessel.
If the team advances from pool play, then Saturday's 10 a.m. semifinals will await.
"Last year, you could tell they were getting so close to being really good," said Rick Weigel, owner of Rick's Food Store on the main road in the Rush County town.
Weigel's oldest daughter, Nicholl, was a senior on the 2004 team that made state in Hays.
He said second-year coach Mindi Dreiling has done a tremendous job with the team.
"It's exciting when the girls can achieve something like this," Weigel said. "Obviously, we've been good in football for so many years. Anytime the girls can accomplish something like this, it's great."
And since La Crosse is the closest school competing at Hays this weekend -- the town is only 20-plus miles south -- Leopard fans are expected to be in full force come Friday morning.
"I probably think the town might be closed," Jay said. "We're all very proud of them and wish them luck."