Holton volleyball falls just short of sub-state championship
Holton’s volleyball team certainly had a daunting task if it wanted to make it to the Class 4A-DII state tournament, as it hosted top-ranked Topeka Hayden in sub-state competition on Saturday.
Holton had no cakewalk getting to that match-up either, as the team started tournament play against a feisty Jeff West squad.
After a couple quick kills seemed to wake up Holton, an ace by Shari Riley swung the momentum in the Wildcats’ favor and set the tone for a back-and-forth match that seemed fitting with the season on the line.
While the Tigers would take a 15-13 advantage, outside hitter Hayley Thompson came through in the clutch and Thompson and Mackenzie Moore had back-to-back kills late in the set that gave Holton a 21-18 advantage.
From there, the Wildcats didn’t have to do much as three straight attack errors by the Tigers allowed Holton to take the opening set, 25-20.
In the second set, Jeff West’s blocking posed a problem for Holton and it took the Wildcats some time to adjust. The team also struggled with its own passing, which compounded the issues and allowed the Tigers to win 25-15 and force a third set.
The Tigers’ play at the net kept the pressure on, but Holton got some strong play of its own in the final set as Megan Rhule had a key block early to put Holton ahead 7-5. Rhule also had a crucial service streak late and got in some key attacks at the right time.
“She’s just so smart. She tips at the right times and she really is an excellent hitter. We wished we could’ve used her more as a hitter, but she’s very court smart,” HHS coach Janelle Noel said.
In addition to Rhule’s strong all-around play (seven kills, 25 assists, five digs on the day), the defense also answered the call in the final set against Jeff West.
Shari Riley and Courtney Boswell combined for 17 digs in the match against Jeff West, with several in that final set, as the team created some long rallies that served the Wildcats well in the end.
“I think we played with a lot of heart in that game and when we were not in our system it looked a little ugly out there at times, but we were scrappy and we did what we had to do to get that over,” Noel said.
An error by Jeff West ended the set 25-14 in Holton’s favor and allowed the Wildcats to move on to a showdown with Hayden for the sub-state championship.
While Noel said she knew her team would be up to the task, no match may have illustrated the rollercoaster ride that Holton has been on this season than that final match.
“I know their potential. I see it in every game and every practice and I know how good we are. It’s just putting that whole game together,” Noel said. “We fought those first 19 points against Hayden and then just kind of fell short a little bit there at the end.”
While Hayley Thompson picked up right where she left off, finishing the tournament with 12 kills and seven digs, it was the play of freshman Regan Baum that helped Holton take a lead in the first set.
“She did come through for us there at the end. She had a lot of good touches on the block. She just swung at the ball and good things came. We got some kills out of it,” Noel said.
A couple of those kills tied up the game and then Rhule put the team ahead with her own kill, forcing Hayden to take a timeout.
Holton held a 19-17 lead at one point before Hayden scored the final eight points of the set to take it 25-19.
From there, things went downhill quickly for Holton as the team’s opponent honed in with laser precision on its attack and quickly jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the following set.
Defensively, the host Wildcats couldn’t recover and despite the numerous substitutions and timeouts, Holton could do nothing to slow down Hayden’s momentum while everything that could go wrong seemed to for Holton.
“We know we’re better than that. We had just proved that we’re better than that and we just let one point become two become five become 10,” Noel said.
Eventually, Hayden closed out the match with a 25-9 win to punch its ticked to the state tournament. While it was a tough finish for Holton, especially being the final match for a strong senior class, Noel said she is hoping the young Wildcats will use that to drive the team forward.
“They felt that hurt and that pain losing there at the end. I think that’s a lot of motivation and drive for next year to know we don’t want to end that way and we’re not going to let it end that way,” Noel said.
Holton finished the season 24-13 overall.
Class 4A-DII Sub-State @ Holton
Hayden def. Bishop Ward: 25-9 and 25-9
Holton def. Jeff West: 25-20, 15-25 and 25-14
Hayden def. Holton: 25-19 and 25-9
Kills- Thompson 12, Leavendusky 8, Rhule 7, Baum 4.
Assists- Rhule 25.
Digs- Boswell 11, Riley 9, Thompson 7, Tanking 6.
Blocks- Moore 3.
Aces- Rhule 1, Riley 1.