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Thunderhawks chasing history

10/26/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Some of the toughest competition at the state volleyball tournament for two Gove County high schools during the 1980s were their opponents just 10 miles away from each other.

Twice, in 1984 and '85, Wheatland High School at Grainfield beat Grinnell -- just 10 miles to the west on Interstate 70 -- in the state championship match.

The very next year, Grinnell's Warriors returned the favor, beating Wheatland in the state semifinals, preventing the Shockers from winning a fourth straight state title.

The Shockers and Warriors don't have to worry about each other anymore.

Students from those two schools now all attend classes together, at the Wheatland building in Grainfield, and they still play some pretty good volleyball.

Now called the Thunderhawks, Wheatland-Grinnell came into Hays for the Class 1A Division II state tourney this morning with one goal in mind -- adding another state volleyball title to their long list that includes 15 championships in either Class 1A or 2A from 1974 through 1991.

Four girls on this year's Thunderhawk roster are daughters of former volleyball players who won state titles at either Wheatland or Grinnell.

One of those is senior Brooke Ostmeyer, whose mom, Stephanie (Bixenman) Ostmeyer, helped Grinnell win three state trophies, with a third-place finish her junior year in 1980 sandwiched between two state championships in '79 and '81.

Brooke Ostmeyer is the youngest girl in the family and helped the Thunderhawks finish second two years ago. A state championship would help one-up her older sister, Taylor, who was a sophomore on the 2007 Thunderhawk squad that finished second at state.

"We're absorbing every possible moment we can, because she's our last girl in volleyball," said Brooke's dad, Terry Ostmeyer.

Terry Ostmeyer is athletic director at Wheatland-Grinnell, so he still will follow Thunderhawk volleyball after this year, although his interests as a dad now will include football in the fall. The Ostmeyers' youngest child, Chandler, is a seventh-grader at Grinnell-Wheatland Junior High in Grinnell.

Also planning to be in the stands at GMC today was Peggy Moore, who coached Grinnell to four state titles and several other top-four finishes from 1979 through 1987 and now lives in Hays.

The banner year for Wheatland and Grinnell volleyball arguably was 1982, when Grinnell won the 1A state title and Wheatland was the 2A state champ.

"Those were some really fun years," Peggy Moore said. "There was a lot of great volleyball played in Gove County back then."

This year's assistant coach, Shannon (Baalman) Foster, grew up around tradition-rich volleyball in Gove County, but this will be her first trip to state other than as a fan. Her younger sister, Allison (Baalman) Polifka, is the team's head coach who helped coach the Thunderhawks to their state runner-up finish two years ago. Polifka also played on two top-four state teams, finishing third at Grinnell her junior year in 2001 and fourth her senior year.

The sisters' mom, Joyce (Lubbers) Baalman, was a junior on Grinnell's first state title team in 1976. Stacy (Ostmeyer) Tholen -- mother of current player, sophomore Tenille Tholen -- was a senior on that team.

* Other Wheatland-Grinnell players whose mothers won 1A state titles at either Wheatland or Grinnell are junior Tristan Rathgeber, whose mom, Christy (Wildeman) Rathgeber, was a member of one of Wheatland's state championship teams her senior year in 1989, and junior Hannah Gillespie, whose mom, Carlene (Huelsman) Gillespie, helped Grinnell win the 1A title her junior year in 1979, then finished second as a senior in '80.