Chieftains claim Spikefest after surprising Baldwin
The entire Tonganoxie High volleyball team huddled together during a final moment of jubilation Saturday in De Soto.
The Chieftains already had hugged, jumped, yelled and screamed after they snapped Baldwin's 29-match winning streak and became the DHS Spikefest tournament champions.
But after jumping for joy one last time, the girls turned to coach Tiffany Parker, who was overcome with emotion as tears welled in her eyes.
Parker, who four days earlier was in the Chicago area to attend her grandmother's funeral, welcomed the biggest victory in her three years at Tonganoxie.
"It's just been a rough week on me and my family, and to have something good happen -- something phenomenal happen -- that's wonderful," Parker said.
The THS coach sensed that her grandmother sharing her excitement.
"I know that now she is able to jump around about it in heaven," Parker said.
Tonganoxie, now 18-5, went 4-0 in pool play with victories against Spring Hill, Barstow (Mo.), Basehor-Linwood and Maranatha Academy.
Then came demanding semifinal and championship matches.
Against Jeff West in the semis, THS trailed 4-0 in game one before tying the game at eight. But the Tigers either had the lead or were tied until THS led, 15-14. After that, Tonganoxie either led or had the tie and eventually prevailed with a 25-21 victory.
In game two, the Chieftains and Tigers battled through 13 ties and six lead changes.
At one point, Jeff West had a 13-9 lead. Parker then took a time out, but the side referee ruled that the up ref's whistled had already blown, allowing that serve to count. Parker then declined to take the time out.
The sequence seemed to ignite her team. THS went on a 3-0 run and cut the lead to two. Jeff West built the lead back to four at 17-13, but that would be their largest of game two. Tonganoxie went on another 3-0 run before slowly inching toward a late-game lead at 22-21. THS eventually won, 25-23.
On the adjacent court, Baldwin disposed of Basehor-Linwood easily in two games, giving the Bulldogs some rest as they watched THS scrap with Jeff West.
In the championship match, heavily favored Baldwin would have its
own dog fight with the Chieftains.
In game one, Tonganoxie led for much of the contest. The Chieftains had their biggest lead at 17-11, but the talented Bulldogs, led by senior Emily Brown, would not go away. BHS tied the game at 18 and then again at 19, but never took the lead as THS outlasted Baldwin, 25-23.
The Bulldogs broke out to a 4-1 lead in game two, then had four-point advantages at 8-4 and 10-6. But a 16-15 advantage would be Baldwin's last. With the score tied at 18, the Chieftains assembled a 5-0 run and made Baldwin play catch-up. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to one with a 24-23 score, but Tonganoxie snagged the final point and came away with the emotional win.
"We've come a long ways when we face good teams and we didn't have to change our game plan," Parker said.
The Chieftains stuck to their original strategy as Brown led the Bulldogs, who qualified for state a year ago. Baldwin, ranked No. 3 in the state before Saturday, now is 31-2.
"Emily Brown is huge for them," Parker said of Brown, who will play college volleyball at Kansas next fall. "We had to score a lot of points while she was in the back row."
When Brown and other Bulldogs did get an offensive attack moving, the Chieftains -- specifically Mollie McCaffrey -- would answer many of those kills with solid digs.
"McCaffrey was huge," Parker said. "She probably was the most impressive on defense. She had the will to not let a ball drop, now matter what."
McCaffrey and Laura Jeannin led the defense, which complemented an offense that thrived with numerous kills from Rebekah Mages and Addie Heim.
"I think I played with confidence, along with everyone else," Mages said. "When we're all up, it gets everyone up to play with confidence like we were taught by Tiff."
The Chieftains on Tuesday were back in De Soto for a triangular against De Soto and Santa Fe Trail.
On Saturday the team heads to Richmond for the Central Heights Classic.
The tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.
The Chieftains will seek another tournament title at Central Heights.
"That probably was the best we ever played," Mages said, referring to the Baldwin match. "Of course, we can always play better, but we did good."