Amid the disappointment a year ago, the players on the Thomas More Prep-Marian volleyball team who were returning for this season wanted another chance.
So after going 1-2 at last year’s Class 3A state tournament in Emporia, the group decided nothing short of a return trip would be sufficient.
During Saturday’s sub-state tournament at Al Billinger Fieldhouse in Hays, perhaps that pressure showed in the Monarchs’ first two matches — even though they won both in straight sets.
But when it came down to the title match against their toughest opponent of the day, TMP answered the call and disposed of Colby to punch their ticket for a return trip to state.
“There was a lot of pressure on us for the whole tournament,” said senior Savannah Yost. “We knew we could do it, but there was a lot of pressure.”
Now, the Monarchs enter this weekend’s 3A finale as the top seed with a 38-2 record.
“I think throughout the season, we always play our best against the hardest teams,” said junior Paris Wolf. “The easier teams, we don’t really push ourselves. The harder teams, we know we can accomplish a lot more.”
The Monarchs have the ability and talent to capture more entering Friday’s pool play. TMP will play Wellsville (29-11) at 9:30 a.m., followed by an 11:30 a.m. match against Beloit (34-5) and a 1:30 p.m. match against Cheney (34-5).
“We are excited about it,” said TMP coach Natausha Dreher. “We were able to play Beloit a little bit this summer when we went to a tournament, and we’ve gotten a lot of film. A lot of coaches around the state have been really helpful. We’re excited about it. Obviously every team that’s there deserves to be there and has earned the right to be there. We’re excited and ready to go compete.”
The sub-state also was important for the Monarchs in one big aspect — atmosphere. The fieldhouse was full of fans cheering wildly in a loud venue.
The players and coach remember that same feeling from state a year ago.
“Last year at state, the atmosphere was a lot like what we played in at sub-state,” Yost said. “I think it prepared us a lot and prepared us for what we’re going to see this weekend.”
“One nice thing about having sub-state here was we were in a pit and it was really loud — a great environment,” Dreher said. “It’s the exact same way in Emporia. It’s incredibly loud, and you’re in a pit. My voice carries extremely well, and the girls last year had a hard time hearing me. Having sub-state here and being in that environment last year, I think they’re going to be a lot more used to it and ready to go down there to compete.”
It won’t be easy by any means. Of the eight teams to qualify this year, six are back from last year. That includes Hesston (37-3), Silver Lake (32-6) and Cheney — three teams that made the final four a year ago.
Silver Lake beat Hesston in the title match, while Cheney was third.
Also making a return trip this year along with the Monarchs are Seneca-Nemaha Central (40-3) and Wellsville.
TMP lost to Silver Lake and Hesston in pool play in 2016. Wellsville went 2-1 in its pool opposite of TMP but lost out on a tie-breaker, failing to make the semifinals.
While the competition will be stout, so too are the Monarchs. That includes several seniors with state experience including Yost, Kayla Vitztum, Ashley Ostrander, Bailey Lacy and Ciara Seib.
“I’m super excited this year because last year I didn’t really get a chance to play with these girls,” said Wolf, who along with junior libero Jillian Lowe see considerable playing time. “It’s their last year now, and I get to play with them. They’re good role models. Hopefully I can bring that next year.”
While Vitztum leads the team in kills, Yost is the most efficient hitter, Dreher said. And all of the players have taken on an added role hitting at the net.
“What’s great is across the net, we have six girls that have phenomenal ball control, great court awareness,” Dreher said. “Our ability to spread the net is going to be an advantage for us.”
Now it’s just a matter of finishing a little unfinished business from last year.
The Monarchs know what to expect from the competition and the atmosphere.
“They are used to that environment, and they know what type of volleyball is expected of them and how they need to play,” Dreher said. “They’re used to it and ready to go.”