Pick a spot, any spot. The Tonganoxie volleyball team's band of hitters has connected to plenty of locations on the opposite court.
Seniors Addie Heim, Kara Coffee and Hannah Heintzelman, sophomore Ali Pistora and freshman Sami Franiuk are the Chieftains who have provided the kills this year.
With Heim, Coffee and Heintzelman as outside hitters, Pistora and Franiuk provide a force from the middle.
Heading into Tuesday's regular-season finale matches at Topeka High, the Chieftains were 27-6 and ranked No. 3 in the state.
And with those offensive weapons come the defensive specialists -- seniors Ashlee Murphy, Amanda Hart and Madison Weller. And an offense wouldn't be complete without a setter. This year's setter is senior Laura Jeannin.
"We've had great leadership in the past and that has carried us in the years past," said THS co-coach Tiffany Parker. "This year, we again have a quality senior class, but along with the leadership we have that attitude of attacking our opponents."
Parker, who came to Tonganoxie in 2001, said other THS teams, in contrast, have kept going on a volley until the opponent makes an error.
This year's Chieftains will head Saturday to Eudora for its Class 4A substate tournament. Matches begin at 2 p.m. at EHS.
Here's a look at each of Tonganoxie's five hitters:
The easy-going, mild-mannered Chieftain has a different look in 2004.
"We talked at length with Addie over the summer and we did some individual workouts with her and we've always told her she's been the nice kid," Parker said. "And that's not bad, but when she's on the court, we give her the quote of 'release the beast.'"
Heim has responded.
The senior leads the team in kills this year going into substate.
Heim attributes her season to what she and her teammates worked on this summer.
"I think that strength always helps and a year of weightlifting has helped me out a lot," Heim said. "Just being a year stronger, but also I feel I have confidence when I hit the ball."
Tonganoxie won't face Lansing or Mill Valley this year in substate. Lansing has stood between THS and a state berth each of the last three seasons, but the Lions moved up to 5A with Mill Valley. The Chieftains had a shot to beat both powers at a home triangular earlier this month, but the Chieftains couldn't knock off their conference foes.
That was a time of the season, Heim said, when the team was slumping. She contends now, however, that the team is back on track.
"A couple days after that we were coming together," Heim said. "I feel like we're peaking now."
The lone southpaw in the Chieftains' hitting corps, Heintzelman has a swing that might put tennis star Andy Roddick to shame on occasion.
OK, that's an exaggeration, but Heintzelman has gotten better control of her swing in her senior season.
"Last year and the year before I didn't ever get my elbow up high enough," Heintzelman said. "They (coaches) have me back to my touch point."
Last year, Heintzelman was more apt to bring her hard swing, but the ball usually sailed long.
"She has the most beautiful natural arm swing if she doesn't try to overdo it," Parker said. "If she makes it a smooth, natural contact, she'll kill the ball every time."
Heintzelman doesn't have quite the kill numbers as some of her teammates, but when she connects, fans -- especially the THS student section -- take notice.
"Oh yeah, it feels pretty good," Heintzelman said. "I get excited."
Heintzelman mentioned that this year's squad is more cohesive because its seven seniors basically have played together since junior high.
Kara Coffee fits into that category, although the senior hasn't played every year in Tonganoxie. As a sophomore, she played at Olathe East, but returned and has been with coaches Tiffany and Brandon Parker ever since.
"With other coaches I've picked up bad habits," Coffee said.
But now with the same coaches the past two years, Coffee said her technique is better.
Parker said Coffee has battled through some tendonitis and illness, but is getting on track.
"She's become more and more consistent, which is what we need from our outside hitter," Parker said.
For Coffee, though, she said it's all about staying calm.
"There will be days or certain games when I get really frustrated," Coffee said.
But the coaches always are there to get Coffee "more neutral."
Of course, the Parkers also have another system of coaching.
"Brandon will yell at us and then Tiffany will bring us back up so we're not teary-eyed," Coffee said with a laugh.
The key to this team, Coffee said, isn't just in the hitting.
"Everyone just balances everybody out," Coffee said. "Everybody works on setting, works on passing, all aspects of the game.
"Other teams I've played with don't really do that."
One of two varsity players during the regular season who is not a senior, Pistora has a year under her belt.
The sophomore, who also is a blocking force for Tonganoxie, is more comfortable as a sophomore.
"I didn't really know what to do or if I could depend on myself," Pistora said, referring to her rookie year. "As a sophomore I can help out my other teammates and depend on myself to do something that will help the team out."
Parker said last year's seniors took Pistora under their wing.
"Last year she was the freshman and basically new to the game," Parker said. "This year she's almost taking it as a veteran, one of the upperclassmen."
As a freshman, Pistora saw first-hand the heartbreak of the postseason. She was on the volleyball team that just missed state. She also was a major contributor to the Chieftain basketball team that couldn't hold off a late Eudora rally in the substate semifinals.
Now, however, she's ready to help this year's senior-laden volleyball squad earn a state berth in Salina.
"It just seems like we have the strength, but we need to bring it all together and we'll be fine," Pistora said.
There's a new freshman on the block. Sami Franiuk fills Pistora's role last year.
Franiuk, who has played club volleyball with the Kansas City Mavs, has played in a national tournament in Houston, along with other competitions in Florida, Minnesota, Colorado and Nebraska. Franiuk has had plenty of experience, but high school volleyball is different from club ball.
"There's a big difference," Franiuk said. "There's a lot more passion to win in high school than there is in club."
So how does Franiuk fit in with this year's Chieftains?
"This team, the seniors and Ali they all treat me like I'm more than just a freshman," she said. "They all know I'm going to help them reach their goal."
As this year's rookie, Franiuk has gone through growing pains, but Parker noted that she has adjusted.
"She's come around," Parker said. "Ali's been a good mentor for her.
"She's still learning the pace we want her to go and the speed of the varsity game as any freshman would. She's come a long way in the last seven to eight weeks."
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