It cannot be overstated in any way, shape or form. The WHS Lady Crusader Volleyball squad achieved great things this weekend at the State 4A D1 Tournament in Salina.
This is a program that has gone through numerous coaching changes over the past 4-5 years. This is a team that had a .500 record for the season leading up to the big show in Salina. This is a group of young ladies that could look very good in match action, and then at times not as much. There was never any doubt though the underlying talent & desire was solid, the chemistry was good, and the commitment to their teammates, real and lasting.
There were 8 teams this weekend in 4A D1 competing for the State Crown, including defending champion and #1 seed Rose Hill Rockets. Additionally, #2 seed Independence, #3 seed Ulysses, #4 seed Louisburg, #5 seed Basehor-Linwood, #6 seed Wellington, #7 seed El Dorado and #8 seed Bishop Miege. The Lady Crusaders had fewer wins than any of these other 7 teams...and then POOL PLAY began.
The Lady Crusaders quite frankly, came out sluggish and lost in two sets on Friday in opening pool play action to Ulysses. (19-25, 15-25) So, out of the starting blocks their backs were against the wall and if they were to have any chance at all to advance out of pool play into bracket play on Saturday, they could lose no more. In match 2 on Friday, #2 Independence took to the court with our Lady Crusaders and dominated. Set 1 to Independence. (14-25) Now it is truly nitty gritty time. Buckle down and get it going or on Saturday you won't be showin'!
Independence continued to exhibit control in Set 2 and the Lady Crusaders found themselves down 10-20. 10-20! 10-20!!! Desperate times had arrived but not alone. You never see CRUSADER MAGIC coming but you know when it's on scene and on scene it was as Set 2 looked like it was heading to a definite loss and match loss and opportunity loss to advance. The Lady Crusaders got down to business and the MAGIC took over. How often does a team come back to win from a 10-20 deficit in such a pressure packed environment? Gotta be very slim chances overall - it is just too difficult to do and our ladies did it, forcing a 3rd set against the #2 seed so they weren't out of danger just yet. The battle was on. Independence couldn't lose, they were the #2 seed! Wellington wouldn't lose because their 'MO" was a "GO" and when the 3rd set dust settled - WHS 25 IHS 23 - the Lady Crusaders were still in the hunt! Whew! Double Whew!
The 3rd and final pool play match, also a must-win was up vs El Dorado. If you don't finish pool play at 2-1 or better, your chances of moving on are slim or non-existent. So, the pressure didn't decrease nor did the drama. In Set 1, nothing in life is easy and this set went on for quite some time - perhaps longer than any set I've ever witnessed. Finally, the Lady Crusaders would prevail, after a back & forth battle - the score? 34-32! What a set!!! Just one more to go and HELLO SATURDAY (hopefully). The MAGIC continued and in Set 2, El Dorado succumbed to the pressure and the girls in Crusader Red pulled out a relatively easy set win and consequently match win, 25-16. Now they had to wait for tie-breakers, etc..to be analyzed and implemented as not one, not two, but three of the four teams in their pool had ended up with 2-1 records but only 2 slots awaited filling for Saturday action. Ugh!
MAGIC works on and off the court when your a Crusader and MAGIC was at work with the tie-breaker. Too complicated and mathematically boring to share so suffice it to say, INDEPENDENCE and EL DORADO packed their bags, WELLINGTON AND ULYSSES were heading to SATURDAY semi-final action and a shot at the State 4A D1 Championship Title. It's time to get some rest and get ready for the biggest volleyball day of their lives.
The two semi-finals on Saturday would pit Rose Hill against Ulysses and Wellington against Louisburg. Louisburg had actually defeated Rose Hill in pool play so we knew they were formidable. The 2 winners would then face-off for the State Championship, the 2 losers would face off for 3rd place consolation honors.
Louisburg came out on fire and exhibited a high degree of Volleyball expertise and took care of business. In the first set, Wellington lost 11-25. The Lady Crusaders did pick it up some in Set 2 but again, Louisburg proved to be too much for WHS and they took the 2nd set as well, this one 17-25. Rose Hill by similar scores downed Ulysses so the final two stages were set. On Court A - defending State Champion Rose Hill would go up against Louisburg for all the marbles. On Court B - Wellington and Ulysses would have a rematch from pool play on Friday and one of them would emerge with 3rd place honors.
Wellington was a different team Saturday when they took the court with Ulysses than Friday when Ulysses as mentioned above, downed WHS in two sets (19-25, 15-25). And that flustered Ulysses in the end, the first set very close, WHS 25 UHS 23 but the MAGIC was too much for the Lady Tigers in Set 2 and WHS won easily 25-16 to claim the 3rd place hardware and just an unbelievable end to a fun season. This was Seniors Valerie Ast, Keelie Cunningham, Jenna Rausch, Shayland French, Jill Wiley and Gracie Fink's last hurrah in Volleyball. Their long and storied careers were over but the hardware was theirs! Teammates Reese Heasty, Brooke McCorkle, Adrienne Norris, Jennifer Jensen and Taylor Meyer will be back and will be joined by some outstanding younger Crusaders coming through the pipeline. Lady Crusader Volleyball is moving up! Congratulations again to a fine, fine group! Congratulations to 1st year head coach Blake Brewster as well! Blake and his assistants made it happen and are to be commended. The Lady Crusaders move on now, continue to work on their academics (nearly every team member at Salina is on the academic honor roll) and of course for some, pursue their winter and then spring sports activities as the 2017-18 school year continues on.
When they reflect back though on the FALL of 2017, the memories will be fond, their smiles will be big and all of us will perhaps be better persons ourselves, having witnessed so much tenacity and composure and team oneness from a group of girls that exceeded all expectations and left their mark on the history of WHS Volleyball for all to see! Awesome job ladies - just totally dang awesome!! Thank you for the great ride!!
SATURDAY MATCH ACTION PICS / TROPHY PICS
One Last Tournament Note: On Court A, the battle between Louisburg and Rose Hill was nothing short of CLASSIC. Louisburg jumped out early on the defending champs and took Set 1. In Set 2, Rose Hill dominated so to final Set 3 they went to determine who the 2017 State Champ would be. Talk about drama, it was a back and forth battle with large contingents of fans on both sides screaming and yelling. In the end, our AVCTL sister team if you will, Rose Hill prevailed, securing the State Title for the 2nd year in a row - a phenomenal achievement against a VERY SOLID Louisburg team. During the trophy presentations, the Rose Hill Lady Rockets cheered and applauded loudly when Wellington was announced and awarded 3rd place medals and plaque. It was extremely cool. The Lady Crusaders returned the gesture when Rose Hill was presented as the champion - the two teams afterwards, showing their friendship and their AVCTL connection, took pics with each other and all savored in their accomplishments and comradery. Great day to be a human being. CONGRATS TO ALL!