Victoria volleyball saw a stellar season end in heartbreaking fashion last year, with the Knights notching 28 wins but finishing just short of a state tournament appearance.
However Victoria coach Sarah Nuss is quick to credit last year's experience for being the stepping stone the Knights needed to take another huge step forward.
"Last year's team was a confidence booster for the current team and also for the program in general," Nuss said. "They had people wanting to watch."
The Knights are heading to the Class 1A tournament at Dodge City's United Wireless Arena this weekend after knocking off Sharon Springs-Wallace County in the sub-state title match last Saturday in Ransom.
Nuss said last year's three seniors — Ally Dinkel, Kali Weber and Ashlyn Windholz — helped ignite the Knights' turnaround. This year, steady progression from Victoria's underclassmen paved the way for a trip to state.
Victoria (23-13) earned a 25-22, 25-17 win over Golden Plains in the sub-state semifinals before meeting up with Sharon Springs in the final. Nuss said she was starting to have flashbacks to last year's sub-state title match loss.
"We were at the same gym; we went back to Ransom again this year," Nuss said. "Last year we were playing Wheatland-Grinnell, this year we were playing Wallace County-Sharon Springs; they were also a blue team. I told my assistant coach before the game started, 'I'm having a deja vu, and I don't like it.' "
But the Knights put their coach's mind at ease with a strong showing, defeating Sharon Springs 25-22, 25-19.
"One thing I have told everybody who has said congratulations — I am so proud of those girls," Nuss said. "They played their hearts out. I've talked to them all season about playing with confidence. I told them, if you have as much confidence in yourself as I have in you, we will do great things this season. They came out and played with confidence and, therefore, they played well."
Sophomore Melany Huser leads the Knights with 189 kills, while Kassi Weber has added 179 kills. Junior Lydia Sander has a team-high 75 blocks with 84 kills.
Kaitlyn Windholz, also a sophomore, leads Victoria with 241 assists while freshman Janet Hugunin has 149 assists. Junior Emily Sterling has a team-high 274 digs.
Nuss said she wasn't sure of the exact year the Knights last appeared at state, but noted a couple of the players' mothers were on the last Victoria team to play at state.
"It's kind of a unique thing," Nuss said.
Victoria, the No. 8 seed, will open against top-seeded Rural Vista at 9:30 a.m. Friday before facing Minneola at 10:30 a.m. and Olpe at 12:30 p.m. to close out pool play.
"Every day before practice this week we've had a little discussion — 'Hey, Does anyone have any questions?' I want to eliminate any anxiety that they could have about it," Nuss said. "Be excited about it. Excited makes you play good. Don't be nervous — nerves make you, usually, play bad. This is a fun thing. Enjoy it."
"One thing I got told as a freshman in high school going to state volleyball .... when we got to the gym my teammates told me to look at the floor — look at the floor, feel the floor. And I'm going, 'Weird.' When I was done, they told me it's made of the same wood that you play on every other game.
"I've shared that with them. You're going to play volleyball. Yes, it's going to be a big setting. Yes, it's going to be more people. Yes, it's going to be more exciting. But you're here to play volleyball. If we relax and play our game and play volleyball, knowing that it's no different from home and our gym, we will do well."
In Class 2A, Smith Center (34-4), which took third last year at state, will open pool play against Valley Heights at 3:30 p.m. on Friday in Dodge City.
Phillipsburg will be making the trip to the Class 3A tournament at Hutchinson Sports Arena. The No. 5-seeded Panthers (29-10) will begin pool play against Cheney at 8:30 a.m.