High school sports returned to Hays in the most riveting way imaginable.
Crosstown rivals Hays High and Thomas More Prep-Marian both cruised into the final of the HHS Maroon and Gold Volleyball Invitational on Saturday, setting up a match between the schools for the first time since 2017.
In doing so, the Monarchs and Indians created one heck of a special occasion for their coaches.
Sisters Natausha Dreher and Shannon Funk coached against each other in the title match, with Dreher’s Monarchs edging Funk’s Indians in a three-set thriller as TMP claimed the tournament crown.
"When we got into this tournament it was just so exciting to be in a Hays tournament and have the pride of Hays volleyball," Dreher said. "And when you’re sister’s coaching over there, nothing’s better. Nothing’s better.
"We both hoped and hoped, and I think the kids hoped (that Hays High and TMP would play in the final). It was a great start to the season for both of us."
The final match certainly lived up to its billing.
The Monarchs took the first set, 25-22, but Hays High bounced back with a strong 25-18 win in the second set.
The third set was a roller-coaster ride for both teams. TMP built a 22-18 lead but Hays High won five of the next six points to knot the match at 23.
Emilee Lane and Kassidi Yost then notched back-to-back kills to seal it for TMP, which went 5-0 in the tourney while Hays High went 4-1.
"It was so much fun," TMP senior libero Emilee Augustine said of the final. "The competition was great. I think coach Funk is doing an unbelievable job coaching (Hays High).
"It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was so much fun, overall."
Dreher said she told her team to soak up the experience when the match got tight late.
"That’s what you want in a championship match," she said. "I called a timeout at one point and I said ’Girls, ’This is exactly what you want. This is what you compete for. This is the reason they do championship games, so just love it, be where your feat are and enjoy every second and every ball.’ "
Following the match, the crowd showed their appreciation by giving the players a standing ovation.
It was the first high school sporting event in Hays since the pandemic brought sports to a halt last March.
Hays High did not limit attendance for the tournament but all spectators were required to wear masks, and temperatures were taken upon entry.
Knowing a full sports season isn’t guaranteed amidst the pandemic, Hays High is choosing to honor its senior classes during the first competitions of the athletes’ respective sports. Volleyball seniors Alexa Moeckel, Katelyn Suppes, Maia Lummus and Brooklyn Schaffer were recognized Saturday.
After both Hays teams swept through pool play, TMP and Hays cruised to semifinal wins against Salina Central and Colby, respectively, to set up the all-Hays final and give Dreher and Funk their wish to have their teams square off in the title match.
"I want her to make it to the championship just as bad as I want to make it to the championship," said Funk, who is entering her first year as Hays High coach. She served as an assistant for Dreher a couple seasons ago at TMP.
"With me being a part of their program just two short years ago, I have a connection with those kids," Funk added. "I want them to do well. I want my kids to do well. What happened today was truly the ultimate goal."
Funk said her team’s showing exceeded expectations for the opening tournament.
"Today was surprising, honestly," Funk said. "My girls developed overnight. We did a team-bonding thing last night and it paid off greatly today. They clicked, they played well, they were determined. They were just a different team that I’ve seen up to this point. It was surprising — happily surprising."
Colby took third place with a 25-23, 25-20 win over Salina Central.
Lane, a junior hitter for the Monarchs, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Yost, a junior setter.
Hays High was represented on the all-tournament team by Schaffer and sophomore Carly Lang. Schaffer was named most outstanding defensive player.
Other all-tournament selections included Bucklin’s Catherine Bowman, Salina Central’s McKenzie Marring, Wheatland-Grinnell’s Livia Schultz, Scott City’s Ella Rumford and Colby’s Kennedy Stanley and Briana Barnett.
Check hdnews.net and Tuesday’s print edition for more coverage on Saturday’s tournament including more comments from Dreher, Funk and Augustine.
Hays High Maroon and Gold Invitational
TMP def. Hays High, 25-22, 18-25, 25-23
Colby def. Salina Central, 25-23, 25-20
Salina South def. Wheatland-Grinnell, 25-10, 25-10
Scott City def. Bucklin, 25-18, 25-15