Through 25 matches, the key to success for the Hays High volleyball team has come down to two things: communication and aggression.
When the Indians talk and play unrelenting volleyball, they’re usually successful. Stretches of quiet and passive play have allowed seemingly lesser teams to hang with the Indians, ranked No. 3 in Class 4A Division I.
Although the Indians left with a 3-0 record, Monday’s home quadrangular showcased a little bit of both.
While it might seem logical to make more noise after a big kill or a service ace, Hays High coach Christin Nunnery is looking for energetic responses when mistakes are made as well.
“Even when we make a couple mistakes, how do you come out of that and still continue to stay loud, and that’s stuff that we’re focusing on because that’s where we start giving points away,” Nunnery said. “It’s when we’re backing off and playing safe.”
The Indians picked up their first win on Monday against Phillipsburg. The Panthers forced Hays High to a third set over the weekend, but that wasn’t close to happening in the Indians’ home gym. Nunnery’s squad won the first set 25-12 after jumping out to an 18-5 lead. A 25-14 win in the second set ensured there would be no rubber match Monday.
“The fact that we came in and beat them in two kinda proved to me that my girls came and they were ready to play,” Nunnery said.
With Kylie Brown out of the lineup with a minor ankle injury, Tessa Stickel led the Hays High attack with seven kills in the match. Albany Schaffer returned from illness and tallied 14 digs, while Morgan Klaus added three blocks.
Hays High kept its strong start going with a 25-8 win over Colby in Set 1 of their second match. The Indians weren’t nearly as dominant in the second set, however. The Eagles led 6-4 at one point early. After the Indians regained a comfortable lead at 18-12, Colby produced another run to make it interesting before the Indians completed the sweep with a 25-22 win.
While the Indians held on to win all of their first four sets, their coach still is looking for a stronger killer instinct.
“I don’t know if they let up, because I don’t think our girls are ever out there not trying,” Nunnery said. “I just feel like it’s their confidence, I think in themselves and each other, that we just don’t go in and attack. We just play safe.”
Madison Prough led the team with 12 assists and six service aces in the win over the Eagles. Prough and Schaffer displayed strong command of the float serve throughout Monday’s three matches. The float serve resembles baseball’s knuckleball as it has almost zero spin and dips unexpected.
“When you have those two back there, it just really just makes the defense move to get to the ball,” Nunnery said.
Monday’s third match against Liberal gave the Indians the most trouble. The hosts jumped out to a 14-7 lead en route to a 25-15 win in set one, but that momentum was halted in the second set. After the teams were knotted at 17, Liberal took eight of the final 12 points for a 25-21 win.
“We didn’t go out and attack the ball,” Nunnery said. “Again we had some passes that weren’t right on or we had amazing sets and we tipped it. Those kills are momentum shifts for us.”
Hays High jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the decisive set, forcing Liberal’s bench to take a timeout. The Indians eventually won the set 25-13 when Klaus put down a free ball.
Prough was the Indians’ leading distributor in all three matches Monday, and closed the Liberal game with 14 assists. Stickel and Audra Schmeidler each notched 10 kills, while Schaffer dug up 24 balls.
Schaffer’s return at libero was a welcomed sight and sound for Nunnery and the Indians.
“Not only does she pick up stuff that most people don’t, but she has those hustle plays that when everybody thinks the ball is down, she’ll get it up and we get a chance to get it back over the net,” the Hays High coach said. “Then she just talks the entire time she’s on the court, so our hitters know where the open spaces are, our block knows where to set the block.”
While the Indians’ libero played a less than 100 percent Monday, the team is hoping to have her, along with Brown, at full strength for Saturday’s tournament in Manhattan. Hays High will take a 22-3 record into the difficult tournament.