Tiger volleyball cherishes return to court for spring season

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Fort Hays State's Delaney Humm hits it between two Emporia State players in the Tigers' first match of their spring schedule.
Fort Hays State's Jaden Daffer, left,  Carly Rodaway, middle, and Isabelle Reynolds celebrate a point on Sunday against Emporia State.

Without a fall volleyball season, Fort Hays State coach Jessica Wood-Atkins was constantly coming up with ways to keep the competitive juices flowing in her players.

"We did a lot of intrasquad scrimmages, some different challenges, because we needed to keep their competitive fire going," Wood-Atkins said. "We just played a lot of miniature games and got a little bit creative. They responded to it well.

"They're all competitors and they like to get out there and compete. Even if it's beating up on each other, they rose to the occasion."

With that said, outside competition was a sight for sore eyes for the Tigers on Sunday. 

Fort Hays opened up its spring slate against Emporia State and Newman at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Tigers swept both the Hornets (25-18, 25-20, 25-21) and Jets (25-16, 25-19, 25-22) in their first matches in 15 months against somebody other than themselves. 

"It's felt like an eternity. It's been insane not being able (to play matches)," FHSU sophomore outside hitter Delaney Humm said. "We're just really happy to be back out there."

"It was a little nerve wracking, just because it's been so long, but it just felt nice," Wood-Atkins said of the return to the court. "It was refreshing to get out and play against somebody other than ourselves for a little bit."

Humm said the Tigers used the extra practice time in the fall to build chemistry.

"It was definitely a bummer not having a season like we're used to," she said. "But we worked on the trust, in that back row especially, because our team is so young; (outside hitter Isabelle Reynolds) is the only upperclassman. We just worked on the connections and everything because we're such a young team."

The Tiger roster is comprised of nine sophomores (Humm, hitters Mykah Eshbaugh, Emily Ellis, Morgan Christiansen, Paige Baird, and setters Melissa Blockey, Elysia Glowacz, Megan Casillas and sophomore defensive specialist Jaden Daffer), three freshmen (hitters Carly Rodaway and Riley Tinder and defensive specialist Morgan McIntire), and one junior (Reynolds). 

"We've got a lot of new pieces and we've shifted some people around, so getting them the opportunity to get into that game-like situation, without it going on our record, I think is really helpful," Wood-Atkins said. 

FHSU returns six players that played in the 2019 season, including two All-MIAA performers in Humm and Reynolds.

Humm, a Lincoln, Neb. native, led the 2019 team in kills, averaging 3.54 per set as a freshman.

"Freshman year was a lot of fun, actually," Humm said. "Having to wait so long to play again was really hard. But I think being able to get back out there and play outside competition besides scrimmaging your own team is going to be really nice for all of us."

Wood-Atkins said improvements in passing and blocking are two points of emphasis for the Tigers, who went 7-21 in 2019. 

After the MIAA fall season was canceled because of the pandemic, the league coaches decided on a limited spring season. The matches have only one official, line judges do not have to be certified, a scorekeeper or libero tracker will not be present, and official statistics will not be recorded.

The Tigers are scheduled to play 12 matches this spring before playing in the MIAA postseason tournament April 16-17. Additional home dates include March 12 against Missouri Western, March 13 against Northwest Missouri State, April 1 against Nebraska-Kearney and April 2 against Washburn.

Nebraska-Kearney was also in town Sunday, playing ESU and Newman. 

The Tigers didn't show signs of rust in their opener against the Hornets. 

"I think for our first game back after not playing for 15 months, I think it looked pretty good," Humm said. "With our conference being super competitive, taking a team in three (sets) doesn't happen super often."

"I thought our middles did a fantastic job, which is attributed to our setters as well, feeding them the ball at critical times," Wood-Atkins said. "They're jumping well, they're coming in with a lot of speed and power, and it's hard to stop somebody that's coming that fast at you."

The Tigers will be back in action on March 6 at Washburn. 

Fort Hays State's Isabelle Reynolds spikes the ball on Sunday against Emporia State.