The 5A and 6A state volleyball championships were held in Topeka this morning and this afternoon.
The Thunder rolls in 5A
Not even losing its first set of the season in the championship match could slow the volleyball juggernaut that is St. James Academy. For the sixth time in as many years, the Thunder captured a state championship, repeating in 5A after winning 4A the previous four years.
After coasting 25-11 in the first set, the Thunder (46-0) dropped their first set of the year 25-19 to rival St. Thomas Aquinas. With no sense of urgency or shock, coach Nancy Dorsey told them between sets they were still the best team.
“We have great senior leadership and we have a very strong group of underclassmen.” she said. “We said, ‘You know what, we knew at some point that was going to happen in our season (lose a set) … and it’s OK. We’ve prepared you where you’re mentally tough, you’re physically tough, and you’re going to be fine. Let’s just come back.’ And they did exactly that.”
Sparked by the hitting of senior Arianna Person, the Thunder grinded out a 25-17 win. The 5-feet-8 jumping jack, a four-year starter, scored nine points in the final set.
Despite the individual play of Person and others, the Thunder’s team effort came shining through as St. James also captured a national championship with their state victory.
“I know the one thing she (Person) would say is that every single person, and that includes every single person sitting on our bench, contributed to that win,” Dorsey said. “I could not be more proud of this group of girls. I’m so happy for them. They worked so hard for this, and they so deserve it.”
Kapaun squeaked out a 25-21, 25-23 victory over Andover for third.
In the semifinals, St. James cruised 25-13, 25-14 over Kapaun Mt. Carmel, while Aquinas had its hands full in downing Andover 25-22, 25-20.
Hawks soar high in 6A
It took three sets against a former champion, but Olathe East finished what it started. The Hawks won their first state volleyball championship with a hard fought 25-20, 16-25, 25-21 decision over Blue Valley Northwest.
Seeking their fourth state title but first since 2000, the Huskies roared to victory in the second set to deadlock the match.
“We’ve done that all year; it’s kind of our M.O.,” East coach Brian Martin said. “We play really well, we get down quick, but we know we’re going to come back … and fight. Our defense is solid enough it gets us out of a number of holes.”
The Hawks’ defense – and offense – certainly got them out of whatever hole they created by losing that set. East used a 10-1 run in the third set to go from down four to an 18-13 lead. They held on for the four-point win.
Olathe East (38-5) had finished fourth three times at state, including each of the last two years. Martin said it was just a matter of time for them to break through to the top.
“It took the experience of coming to this a couple of times and maybe not getting it done but understanding what it takes to come back and get it done,” he said.
In his 13th year as East’s head coach, Martin was ecstatic.
“I’m way up there because I don’t even know what to say at this point,” he said. “The kids just fought and fought and fought. Even when they were down, they came back and they were resilient.”
After finishing second in 2012, Blue Valley placed third this year with a 25-20, 25-14 victory over Olathe Northwest.
Semifinal matches saw Olathe East go three to defeat Blue Valley 25-20, 12-25, 25-23 as Blue Valley Northwest eased by Olathe Northwest 25-20, 25-16.
Two-time defending champion Washburn Rural lost to Manhattan in substate. Rural had been to 16 consecutive state tournaments and has won seven titles.