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State volleyball - Hoxie falls just short of Centralia in title match

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

Sometimes, things don't work out as expected.

Case in point: the title match at the Class 1A Division I state tournament Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.

Hoxie was in unchartered water, having never made a title match in volleyball history despite having perennially strong girls' sports -- including 1A Division I titles in basketball the last two years.

Centralia was a multi-time state champ and perhaps the underdog after losing to the Indians in pool play Friday.

But the Panthers rallied to stun Hoxie in the final match, winning 21-25, 25-20, 25-16.

Hoxie coach Shelly Hoyt had the burning sentiment the school's first volleyball title slipped away.

"I'm going to say this: There's no doubt in my mind who the better team is," Hoyt said. "It just happened that the better team didn't win today. I truly believe that. Our kids, they played their hearts out, and it is hard to beat a team twice like that. But they played really well and kept us on the back of our heels. But I can't say enough about our kids. There's no doubt in my mind we're the best team in the state."

The pain on the faces of the Hoxie players was evident in the tears streaming down their faces after one of the most intense matches at state this season.

"You could see how much it meant to them because all their girls were crying," Centralia coach Kimbrook Tennal said. "That's what I tell my kids. If you're not crying, did it mean enough to you? Did you work hard enough? I think they worked so hard, wanted it so bad. I felt sorry for them in a way, but that's volleyball. You have to go out and battle, battle, battle. Today, we battled a little harder. But we had to work so hard because they are so good."

Hoxie (39-4) beat the Panthers in two games Friday, but Centralia -- which notched its 11th title in school history, the first since 2006 -- evened the table Saturday. The Panthers' loss to Hoxie in pool play was the first to the Indians in their state history.

"It's definitely doable," said senior Kristina Farber. "I think they brought a little bit more today than they did yesterday. That kind of caught us off-guard."

Centralia never trailed in Game 2 of the title tilt, building moment for the deciding game.

"I think we came together so much better in the second and third games," said Centralia junior Amaris Jones, who had six kills in the two deciding games. "We literally kept each other pumped and fired up. We knew we were going to get it, but we had to keep each other up."

The size of Centralia's Kaitlyn Koch and Mayda Stallbaumer kept Hoxie off balanced at the net the final two games.

When Jones stepped up her game on offense for Centralia, it added one more element for Hoxie to defend.

"You're really just focusing on a few other key players, then more players on their team stepped up," Farber said.

Hoxie trailed 9-8 in the deciding game after a kill by freshman Nicole Heim. But Centralia rattled off six straight points to build a 15-8 advantage before a kill by junior Lexi Schamberger stopped the spurt.

Hoxie, which had its best finish at state, would come no closer than five points the rest of the way.

"It was a great year," Hoyt said. "I told them with five points left in the Goessel (semifinal) game, I sat there and felt so blessed to be a part of this and to coach kids I truly love. We walk away with a loss in the state championship game, but I don't love them any less."