State berth denied for another year
Saturday afternoon, the Tonganoxie High volleyball team looked relaxed when it played in a Class 4A substate tournament in Holton.
Players would substitute for teammates, meeting each other at courtside as they hopped up and down and screamed with glee.
The Chieftains used that energy to their advantage, assembling two convincing wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals before facing Holton in the championship.
Saturday evening, those big smiles vanished, replaced with tears that rolled down somber faces.
THS, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, fell in two games to top-seeded Holton, 25-23 and 25-22. Tonganoxie's season ended with a 32-9 record, while Holton advanced to the state tournament in Salina. The Wildcats (26-6) will be the No. 8 seed at state and play No. 1 Towanda-Circle (39-1) at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
"We were rolling early in the day," THS co-coach Tiffany Parker said.
Tonganoxie continued to play well against Holton, but Parker said the tough battle just went to the host team.
"They (THS players) played a great match and so did Holton and it just fell Holton's way," Parker said.
Tonganoxie led Holton by as many as six in the first game, 10-4 and 15-9. Late in the game, THS needed four more points to secure a win. The Chieftains led, 21-18, but the Wildcats finished the game on a 7-2 run.
In the second game, Holton scored the first point, but Tonganoxie responded with a run of its own and led 6-1. That was the Chieftains' largest lead.
Holton chipped away at the THS lead and tied the game at 14. The game was tied again at 16 and 17, thanks to kills by Sami Franiuk, but Holton slowly pulled away. With the game tied at 17, Holton outscored THS 8-5 and finished off Tonganoxie.
The loss marked the sixth consecutive year the Chieftains finished with a substate runner-up trophy.
Despite the defeat, the team finished the year at 32-9. The 32 wins are the most in a season for co-coaches Tiffany and Brandon Parker, who started coaching at THS in 2001. The previous high was 30 in 2004, when the Chieftains went 30-8 and pushed Eudora to three games before losing in the substate finals in Eudora.
"It's 32 wins against tough competition," Tiffany Parker said. "We've got a pretty tough schedule. The kids had to battle every day."
The season included championship wins at the Rossville Invitational and the Tonganoxie Invitational and a second-place finish at the De Soto Spikefest for the Chieftains. In addition, the team defeated Lawrence-Free State earlier last week and pushed Blue Valley West to three games before falling in its home finale. BV West won last year's 6A state title and advanced this year also. Manhattan, which Tonganoxie defeated in the championship of its home tournament, will play in the 6A state tournament as well.
THS hadn't won its home invitational since 1998.
"Thirty-two wins against 4A, 5A, 6A schools," Brandon Parker said. "That is pretty good."
Tonganoxie will return many players next year, but two seniors -- Ali Pistora and Rachel Bogard -- played in their final matches Saturday.
"Great volleyball players and even better people," an emotional Brandon Parker said after the loss to Holton. "They did a great job. We couldn't have asked for anymore from Rachel and Ali."
After last year's squad went 16-18, the first losing season since the Parkers started coaching at THS, Pistora and Bogard led the team to its best record under the two coaches.
"Hopefully the kids can focus on the good things through the disappointment," Brandon Parker said.
Bogard said she was proud of her team and wouldn't "want to play with any other girls," she said.
Bogard also talked about playing in front of a rowdy Holton student section.
"It was loud, but we didn't focus on that," Bogard said. "I think we played well, but it didn't roll our way, I guess."
No KVL teams headed to state
Santa Fe Trail won't be defending its state title from last year.
The Chargers fell in substate play, as did Lansing, another Kaw Valley League school that is a regular at state tournaments.
Eudora, which Tonganoxie beat twice during the regular season, will make its third straight state appearance.
The Cardinals (37-5) will play Holton at 11:30 a.m. Friday in pool play in Salina's Bicentennial Center.
Almost another milestone
A win against Holton would have sent THS to the state tournament, but also would have given Tiffany and Brandon Parker their 150th victory at THS. The coaches are 149-72 in six seasons at Tonganoxie.
More than 100 Tonganoxie supporters made the hourlong trip to Holton for the tournament, including a few junior high and elementary school girls who sat behind the Tonganoxie bench. When players came off the floor after a substitution, they exchanged high-fives with the youths.