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State volleyball - La Crosse, Hoxie prepared for Division I field

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

As the No. 3 seed in last week's Class 1A Division I sub-state tournament in Lincoln, La Crosse High School volleyball coach Mindi Dreiling knew her club had a shot to advance.

When top-seeded Victoria fell in the first semifinal, it really boosted the Leopards' confidence.

"When we saw Victoria lose, I could see it in their eyes," Dreiling said of her young club, which has just two seniors and starts a freshman and a sophomore. "I said 'We have to focus now on Lincoln.' I kept looking at them and saying Lincoln was on my mind."

The Leopards responded by beating second-seeded Lincoln, 25-14, 25-11, then survived upset-minded Macksville in the title match.

"We're very excited," Dreiling said. "We really had a good chance going in, but the girls accomplished a lot through that weekend. So happy for them."

Now the Leopards get to play the underdog role in this weekend's Division I state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays. The only team under .500, the Leopards enter with a 16-20 mark and will play top-seeded Caldwell (36-3) in the first match of pool play at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

It's La Crosse's first state tournament appearance since 2004 when it finished 0-3 in pool play in Class 1A. Prior to that, La Crosse had not been to state since 1985. The three opponents the Leopards will face Friday --  along with No. 4 Spearville and No. 5 Goessel -- have just 17 losses combined, but the Leopards are excited about the opportunity.

"I don't really think our record reflects us completely," said Dreiling, in her second year at the helm. "We've had our ups and downs, but when we play really good, we are really good."

La Crosse is fueled by the play of its top three players; junior Alyssa Oborny, sophomore Morgan West and freshman Olivia Baus.

At 5-foot-9, West averages right around three kills per set and carries a .372 hitting average. Baus, at 5-11, averages just less than two kills per set.

"Our strength is in our middle," said Dreiling, a Scott City native who played one season at Garden City Community College. "They kind of control the net for our team."

On the outside, Oborny, just 5-5, has racked up 141 kills, and is the team's top server.

"She has an amazing serve she's been working on all year, and has just been getting better," Dreiling said.

While the Leopards are making a rare appearance in the state finale, in the other pool, state-tournament mainstay Hoxie brings a 35-3 mark and earned the bracket's No. 2 seed. The Indians landed in a pool that combines for just 31 losses and will play No. 7 seed Scandia-Pike Valley (25-12) in the 8:30 a.m. session Friday.

"Hopefully, we can overcome that," Hoxie coach Shelly Hoyt said of the tough pool that includes powerhouse Centralia (34-5) and Waverly (30-8).

Hoxie played Centralia and Waverly last season in pool play, and was the No. 2 team with a loss to the Panthers.

Then, Hoxie lost in the semifinals to Centralia and finished fourth for the fourth time since 2001.

Hoxie hopes again to contend for its first state volleyball title.

"It's always nice --  a feeling that I hope they feel lucky to have this opportunity," Hoyt said. "This group is still learning a lot, and that's the exciting part.

"They have some room to grow yet, and it's just fun and exciting to go to practice every day, because there's something for them to gain out of it every day," Hoyt added.

Hoxie is led by its usual suspects, a group that has helped fuel the last two state basketball titles in Class 1A Division I. Seniors Gabi Spresser and Kristina Farber are among four seniors in their final season. Hoxie will suit up eight for state.

Farber leads the team with 210 kills and senior Natasha Allmer has 208. The Indians also pass the ball well with sophomore Terran Hoyt and junior Carly Heim at 317 and 348 assists, respectively.

Just like in basketball, Hoxie's stats don't jump off the page because of the team's balance.

"They're just so many kids that can step up for us," coach Hoyt said. "The setters do a great job of sharing the ball and they move it around. We have some kids that can hit the ball a little bit harder, but they're all pretty darn accurate.

"They do what they need to do."

Hoxie's three losses have come at the hands of perennial Class 3A contender Phillipsburg, Class 1A Division I qualifier Spearville and Class 3A Norton. The Indians swept through last week's sub-state, and were 6-0 at the Northwest Kansas League Tournament on Oct. 19, defeating two state qualifiers and one of the favorites in a 2A sub-state, Atwood, a schedule Hoyt said she hoped prepared her club for the challenge it will face Friday.

"Our league tournament was a great opportunity to play against some strong teams," Hoyt said. "They're all very tough teams."