By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

SALINA Its a pain that wont subside for a long time.

The Thomas More Prep-Marian volleyball team had its chances, but Hoyt-Royal Valley provided the final images of what should be remembered as a remarkable season for the Monarchs.

They are all hurting. They wanted to continue, TMP coach Natausha Dreher said. There were a couple of hiccups in there where we quit playing as a unit and started playing as six individuals. That will tear you apart, but they fought and they battled and they were fun to coach through every point of it.

The 2-1 loss to sixth-seed Royal Valley on Friday at the Class 4A Division II state volleyball tournament at Salinas Bicentennial Center ended the seventh-seeded Monarchs season with a 23-16 record, leaving them just a few points shy of advancing to Saturdays semifinals.

But considering TMP only won six matches a season ago and started this season 3-8, its difficult to be too disappointed about 23 wins and a state appearance, however painful the end feels now.

TMP started its day with an 8:30 a.m. match against second-seed Holcomb, the top seed in its pool, and a team the Monarchs lost to Oct. 11 in Scott City, 2-0. But TMP was a different team in the rematch, cruising through the first set 25-17 and holding off the Longhorns 25-22 for the match victory.

They had it made up in their mind that they were going to win, and thats what they did, Dreher said. I think they were really confident going into Holcomb anyway, just for the mere fact they were playing well when we got here. And they knew they were very comfortable in their rotation and where they were playing and with each other.

The second match of three in pool play came against third-seed Baldwin, a team that had little difficulty in a 25-18 first-set win over the Monarchs. TMP battled back in the second set, earning a 25-22 win with a trip to Saturdays semifinals on the line.

But as much energy as it took for TMP to fight for the second-set win, it left the Monarchs on empty for the decisive third set, a 25-11 win for Baldwin.

That second set, we fought and we would make sure we were swinging at everything, Dreher said. Its just we didnt put 50 points together, I guess is the best way to put it. That second set, they had fun, they played hard, and they made sure they were swinging. Third set, they just quit swinging.

That led to the final pool-play match, an all-or-nothing battle between TMP and Royal Valley with the winner advancing to Saturday, along with Baldwin, which had already punched its ticket.

It looked like it was going to be an easy win for TMP, which dominated the first set, 25-16. But from there, it was an intense battle between two teams that knew exactly what was on the line.

You know, I told them between games, if nothing else we go out and do what we can do and have fun at it. Just play loose. We were so uptight today, Royal Valley coach Denise Visocsky said. The kids just kept on working. We finally had gotten in some rhythm and stuff from where we were. So we finally got things going and just never gave up.

TMP controlled much of the second set, holding leads at 22-17 and 24-21. But four straight points from Royal Valley kept the match alive, and the Panthers eventually pulled out the 27-25 victory.

The Monarchs once again came out flat in the third set and trailed 20-15 going into a timeout. But a surprise 8-0 run with their backs against the wall made it 23-20, only Royal Valley answered and again sent the set into bonus serves. The teams battled back and forth, TMP holding match point at 27-26, but three straight points from Royal Valley ended the set at 29-27 and the Monarchs season.

They are competitors. They wanted to keep playing. They wanted to do this for their senior, for Kaylor Gottschalk, Dreher said. The way that they played all season, from the growth, from set one and point one of the very first match to the way that they played about the last eight points of this last match is a huge difference.

Top-seeded Clay Center and fifth-seeded Iola advanced out of the other pool to join Baldwin and Royal Valley in Saturdays semifinals.