RUSSELL — Early in Saturday’s Class 3A volleyball sub-state final, it was clear to Thomas More Prep-Marian coach Natausha Dreher that her Monarchs were in the right frame of mind and locked in against an outstanding Phillipsburg team.
After two losses to the Panthers previously this season, TMP was on fire midway through the first set, using a 10-1 run to take command.
"I saw confidence," Dreher said. "I saw that they were relaxed. I saw they believed in everything that they had, they believed in their capability. They knew that when they played with confidence that they could control the match. That was the most beautiful part (to see) that confidence come out in them."
TMP maintained that energy throughout the match, avenging the losses to the Panthers with a 25-19, 25-20 win to capture the 3A Sub-State No. 2 tournament title at Russell.
The Monarchs (30-7) will host a Class 3A state quarterfinal against Goodland (33-5) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Al Billinger Fieldhouse. The winner will advance to the final four on Saturday in Hutchinson.
"We just wanted it super bad," TMP junior hitter Emilee Lane said. "We work really hard all the time so I’m glad we can pull it out."
The first set was knotted at 10 before the Monarchs unleashed the big run, opening up a 20-11 lead.
"It’s great to have big runs, and when we can get the service runs, that’s where it is," Lane said. "And if you can win the serve and receive game, you can win the whole game."
TMP held a 13-12 lead in the second set before gaining separation with four straight points. The Monarchs clinched the match after Jadyn Gottschalk’s dig was handled by setter Kassidi Yost, who fed Lane for the kill.
The top-seeded Panthers beat TMP in three sets a week earlier in the Mid-Continent League tournament final. Phillipsburg also took a three-setter against TMP in late September.
"When you play a team two times, by the third time you play them you normally have a pretty good scouting report," Dreher said. "That was helpful. We got our middles a lot more involved this time and that makes a really, really big difference.
"The girls played disciplined. Honestly, the first two times that we played them, we had a lot of errors. In the first set that we played them in the MCL tournament, we had 18 errors. So when you clean that up and you spread the net the way Kassidi Yost was spreading the net, it makes a huge difference."
Yost also took advantage of opportunities to go the attack herself, executing the setter dump at key points of the match.
"She’s so quick with the ball," Dreher said. "She understands that she’s got to let that ball cross her body before she can get a hard attack on it. When she does do it, she does it with such power and such speed that even when you’re there sometimes you’re not ready and you shank the pass or the dig. She’s a presence, and we love having that."
It was truly a team effort, Dreher said.
"Everybody has such appreciation for everybody’s talents," Dreher said. "Everybody’s role on this team is so very crucial, and that showed tonight. Our middles, Kali Hagans and Sasha Wasinger, took care of the ball so well today, and it frees everybody else up when we can distribute the ball like that. It was great."
"That’s the best," Lane said. "I love it when everyone gets involved. Everyone works hard so they deserve that."
TMP opened the day with a 25-11, 25-17 win over Russell before beating Beloit 25-23, 25-21 in the semifinals.
Phillipsburg beat Larned, 25-11, 25-15, in the first round of sub-state before taking a 25-23, 25-13 win over Norton.
The Panthers ended the season with a 36-4 mark. Sophomore middle hitter Heather Schemper enjoyed a huge season for Phillipsburg. The Panthers had five seniors — Meredith Jacobs, Meg Keeten, Kenzie Storz and Evea Arment and Kay Pakkebier.
The Monarchs’ five seniors — Gottschalk, Wasinger, Emilee Augustine, Sophia Mickelson-Coulter and McKenzie Linenberger — will get one more opportunity chance to play at Al Billinger Fieldhouse in the quarterfinal with Goodland, which will be a best-of-five set match.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association changed the format for state volleyball this year because of COVID-19. The winners of even-numbered sub-state will host quarterfinal matches. The quarterfinal winners will move on to the final four.
Goodland reached the quarterfinal by winning sub-state No. 1, beating Holcomb in two sets in the final.
Dreher said her team is looking to forward to the atmosphere of a state tournament match in Billinger Fieldhouse.
"We love playing at home. There’s something special about playing in the pit," Dreher said. "To do it so late in the season in what is, by title, a first round of state, I mean, it’s really special. We’re excited to get to host it and just be back in the pit again."
As well as the Monarchs played Saturday, Dreher said she believes her team has yet to reach their peak.
"Because this group is willing to learn — not only learning in the skill but learning how mentally tough they can be — they still haven’t hit their peak yet, which is great, because we got a game on Tuesday," Dreher said. "We plan on taking care of business on Tuesday and then going to Hutch.
"I love that they’re still learning, because there’s still time."