State volleyball - Smith Center puts together surprise season
By AUSTIN COLBERT
When Nick Linn was asked to be the head coach of the Smith Center volleyball team 28 years ago his first reaction was to say "No way." But he ended up taking the job and hasn't regretted it for a second.
Linn has also been very successful. Smith Center's win over Ellis in the Class 2A sub-state final last week not only sent the Lady Red back to state for the first time since 2011, but gave Linn exactly 700 wins in his career.
"It's one of the best offers that I have ever gotten because I have really enjoyed it over these years. To be able to stand the test of time and coach for 28 years consecutively has been good," Linn said. "This 700 wins is something I can relate back to later on in life and that sort of thing. The kids understand where I'm at in terms of achievement, but it's not about that. It's about what they've achieved and it's about this year."
And this year has been nothing sort of surprising for Smith Center. The Lady Red graduated five all-league players from a team that lost in the sub-state finals last year. With only three seniors on this year's team and a bunch of underclassmen, the hype surrounding Smith Center wasn't that high coming into the season.
Despite the odds, Smith Center enters Friday's Class 2A state volleyball tournament in Emporia as the No. 2 seed with a 36-4 record.
"I consider it like a Cinderella season because it wasn't really expected," Linn said. "But they really came together early in the season and we stuck with the plan."
Linn said the strength of his team is with its middle hitters. Senior Lynzee Mace and junior Drew Mann have combined for nearly 800 kills this season. Smith Center has also found good setters in junior Megan Haresnape and senior Kaitlin Albert.
Juniors Courtney Panter and Cheyanne Hileman fill out the starting rotation alongside senior libero Jordan Baxter.
If there is a weakness, it's that the girls have been too unselfish at times, which isn't by design.
"We don't do equal opportunity anything. We just try to go out there with our best hitters and have role players," Linn said. "We have a group that really appreciates each other and really understands their role on the team."
Smith Center will be looking for its first state championship in volleyball, about the only thing eluding Linn in his long and successful career. If it doesn't come this season, the knowledge that his team is so young gives him comfort that there will also be next year.
"We have a lot of underclassmen who are getting good experience this year," Linn said. "That should lead us to some better things even again next year."
Goodland returns to state
It's been 10 years since Goodland won its fourth state championship in volleyball. That season, current Cowgirl volleyball coach Barb Bedore was an assistant and her oldest daughter, Dani, was a freshman on the team.
Bedore remembers it fondly, and knows how exciting just getting to go to state is for the players.
"It was pretty exciting," Bedore said. "Every time the kids make it to state and get that additional week of practice and get to be one of those last eight teams standing is an exciting time. It's extremely enjoyable for the kids."
Now Bedore, in her fifth year as the head coach, has Goodland back in the Class 4A state playoffs for a 17th time in school history. Only Concordia can claim to have that many state appearances at the Class 4A level.
Bedore's youngest daughter, Taryn, is a senior and key setter and middle hitter for the Cowgirls this season. Senior outside hitter Ellie House joins Taryn as Goodland's feature players.
Goodland is 29-7, and will be the No. 4 seed at the Class 4A Division II tournament starting Friday in Salina, the first year Class 4A has been split into two divisions.
"We are at the very bottom end of schools just because of our school population. There is such a huge gap in enrollment that I feel like it was a very needed split," Bedore said. "We've spent the season just talking about taking care of our business and making sure we do the thing we need to do to be successful."
Taryn Bedore and House are the only two seniors for Goodland. The rest of the team is comprised of three juniors and a handful of underclassmen. The seniors were freshmen the last time Goodland made it to state in 2010.
"They pretty much know what to expect. And of course with us being 29-7 they are both very good leaders, very good players," Bedore said of her seniors. "Heading into state you just never know. You just have to show up and play."