Campaigning for a state berth
For the past three years, Tonganoxie volleyball has played the part of upbeat challenger.
Moving for a final push in October, the Chieftains put together enough steam to reach the Class 4A sub-state finals.
One last obstacle before the state tournament is a championship meeting with Lansing. Every year, the incumbent has prevailed.
Always the top-seed, Lansing usually meets Tonganoxie as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. Two years ago, the Lions needed three games to upend Tonganoxie in the sub-state finals on the Chieftains' home court. Lansing would go on to win the state title. The other two seasons, the Lions needed two games to claim the sub-state trophy.
This season, the Chieftains again could face their arch-rival in sub-state.
With plenty of talent returning, Tonganoxie has a shot at being elected to the Chieftains' first state tournament since Chris Herron took the team regularly in the 1990s.
"The varsity as a whole is probably farther along than it's been in the past," said co-head coach Brandon Parker.
Tiffany Parker had been the team's coach the past three years with Brandon Parker serving as the junior varsity coach. With the hire of Kristan VanMiddlesworth as the team's new JV coach, the Parkers decided to become co-head coaches.
In previous years, the Parkers staggered varsity and JV practices so both coaches could work with more players.
"We just felt like we had so much talent last year and were spread out coaching-wise," said Tiffany, who is 71-36 after three years at THS.
Also factoring into the decision is another Parker. Tiffany and Brandon are expecting their first child in the winter.
In the preseason, the team's outlook appears more favorable than any other year since the Parkers came to Tonganoxie.
THS does have to replace a strong senior class from last year that included Kelly Breuer, Mollie McCaffrey, Rebekah Mages, Michelle McWilliams and setter Katie Jeannin.
This year, however, the team returns with starters Maddie Weller, Addie Heim, Ashlee Murphy and Laura Jeannin.
Laura Jeannin will be a main setter on this year's squad.
"L.J. is stepping in for sis," Brandon said.
Also expected to contribute are fellow seniors Kara Coffee, Hannah Heintzelman and Amanda Hart.
Last season, the team didn't have much height, but sophomore Ali Pistora will complement Heim's height, while freshman Sami Franiuk is on the varsity roster as a middle hitter.
"Sami's got a lot of experience with club ball," Brandon said.
The Chieftains' schedule basically will be the same as last year -- tournaments at home, De Soto and Central Heights and a season-finale quadrangular against Topeka High, Lawrence-Free State and Blue Valley West in Topeka.
The only change will be a date with Bishop-Ward. The Cyclones joined the Kaw Valley League this fall as De Soto moved to the Frontier League.
Still on the schedule are teams such as Paola, Baldwin and even Manhattan and Great Bend if Tonganoxie draws them in the Chieftains' own tournament.
And, of course, Lansing, which could move up to Class 5A because of an enrollment jump, still is on the schedule.
"We have new kids playing in new spots so it will probably take some time to jell and see how we handle tight situations," Parker said.
Tonganoxie opens the varsity schedule Sept. 8 in Bonner Springs.