Three area volleyball teams familiar with the state stage will set their sights on a championship this weekend.
Otis-Bison and Wheatland-Grinnell will be competing for a Class 1A title at Emporia's White Auditorium, while Smith Center will be battling for a 2A crown at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Otis-Bison, making its third straight trip to state, finished as the Class 1A Division II runner-up last year and placed third in 2016. Class 1A went back to one division starting this fall.
The Cougars advanced with a 25-16, 25-23 win over Thunder Ridge in the sub-state final at Ransom-Western Plains High School.
"We're excited to be going," Otis-Bison coach Janelle Maier said. "When you enter a tournament, the records are 0-0 for everybody. We're just going to fight our hardest for every match that we can and see what happens."
The Cougars enter the match as the No. 8 seed at 28-12 and will open the tournament at 10 a.m. Friday against 42-0 Centralia, which has won the Class 1A Division I state title the last two years.
Otis-Bison is led by hitters Maddie Wiltse, Sidney Schneider and setter Kaleigh Maier.
"We had a really decent start (to the season)," Maier said. "Then we challenge ourselves in the Hoisington tournament where we play Smith Center, Hoisington, Phillipsburg, some bigger schools. We kind of had a midseason slump but we started rolling back."
The Cougars are in the same pool with Wheatland-Grinnell, which took third place in Class 1A Division I last year, second in 2016 and claimed a state championship in 2015. The Thunderhawks won a thriller over Victoria, 25-23, 25-20 in the sub-state final in Ransom to advance.
“In the second set, we were down by quite a few points and I called timeout,” Wheatland-Grinnell coach Shannon Foster said. “We basically just talked about gong back to the basics, remembering to get into our positioning a little bit better and being ready for every ball instead of just standing still in our tracks, and getting one hustle play to get things turned in our direction.
“They were able to go out and get a couple things to start falling. Once you get a point or two to start falling your way, things just seem to keep multiplying.”
The No. 4-seeded Thunderhawks (31-9) will meet Olpe (32-9) in the pool play opener at 11 a.m. Friday.
It will be the third straight tournament for Wheatland-Grinnell senior Mikayla Heier, while juniors Jessi Bernbeck, Jordyn Vincent and Morgan Zimmerman played in the state tournament last year.
The Thunderhawks will be in a tough pool, but Foster said her team is peaking at the right time.
“For us, it’s about energy, talking and moving. If we can do that, I have all the confidence in the world that we can continue our season on to Saturday,” she said.
Smith Center (35-5) is the No. 2-seed in the Class 2A tournament and will begin pool play against Ellinwood (27-11) at 11 a.m. Friday in Hays.
Smith Center beat Trego in its sub-state final to advance to state and the Lady Red also won the Mid-Continent League Tournament two weeks ago.
"We've got some experience, and a lot of our experience is with juniors," said Smith Center coach Nick Linn, whose team is making its fourth trip to state in the last five years. "We thought we'd have a good year, but with our league we'd knew it would be tough. But we felt like when the Mid-Contintent League Tournament came around two weeks ago, we were playing maybe our best volleyball. By now, we're pretty confident in how we're playing the game."
Linn hopes that the Lady Red can take some confidence away from a strong showing in the Concordia Tournament earlier this season, when Smith Center went up against Concordia and other tough competition.
"If we can play at that level, we'll compete on Friday," Linn said. "If we don't play at the level, we're going to be hard pressed to get out (of pool play)."