By AUSTIN COLBERT
Between Hays High School and Thomas More Prep-Marian, volleyball was something to be ignored in 2013 as the teams struggled to combine for a mere 18-50 record.
But with essentially the entirety of each roster back this season, 2014 proved to be a much different tale for both squads, making their turnaround one of The HDN's top stories for 2014.
After going 6-27 a year ago, TMP had one of the more remarkable breakthroughs of any area team in any sport. The Monarchs opened the season with a sweep of Colby and Norton at home, but struggled over the next few weeks and limped to a 3-8 record.
But they finally broke through at the Trego Invitational, going 5-0 to earn the tournament championship. As it turned out, that was the confidence booster they needed.
"People were asking me that: 'Are you going to be better this year?' 'I obviously don't know.' Then we started the season 3-8 and I was like, 'Oh no, this is going to be another bad season,'" TMP junior Melissa Pfeifer said in an interview earlier in the season.
"Then we had the turnaround in Trego. I guess that's when we realized we could be a good team. I think we didn't think we could until then."
The Monarchs went on a tear in the second half of the regular season, winning 17 of 23 matches at one point, including a 5-1 record and championship at the MCL tournament in mid-October. TMP then made history by defeating Larned and Smoky Valley in Class 4A Division II sub-state play to make its first state tournament since 1985.
Opportunities were there for TMP, but heartbreaking losses to Baldwin and Royal Valley ended its time at state with a 1-2 record (having beaten Holcomb) and a 23-16 record for the season.
TMP is only losing one senior off this year's team and could be poised for another state run in 2015.
"They are competitors. They wanted to keep playing," TMP coach Natausha Dreher said following their final loss at state. "The way that we 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."
Hays High went 12-23 in 2013, but entered this season extremely confident having only lost one senior from the year before.
The confidence was apparent from the get-go, the Indians winning their first 11 matches of the season. They stumbled some against good competition midway through their schedule, but had a strong showing at the WAC tournament, falling just shy of Garden City in the championship match.
HHS's quest to make it to state fell short in their Class 4A Division I sub-state, a 2-0 loss to McPherson ending its season with a 26-10 record.
Both Hays High and TMP were heavily present on post-season award lists. TMP senior Kaylor Gottschalk and junior Bailey Hageman were both named first team all-MCL, while freshman Kayla Vitztum was honorable mention.
Hays High junior libero Albany Schaffer was named the WAC player of the year, while coach Christin Nunnery was the WAC coach of the year. Junior Kylie Brown joined Schaffer on the WAC first team, and senior Ashlyn Parrish made honorable mention.