Don’t stop believin’
Chieftains earn first state berth in 14 years
Sami Franiuk held up the plaque that read "2007 sub-state champions" in the middle of the volleyball court as students who rushed the floor screamed and parents applauded.
A half-hour later, the senior THS outside hitter still had the plaque in her hands, protecting it like a running back would protect the football.
She had her reasons.
"I'm going to hold this until we win state, then I'll replace it with a state one," Franiuk said. "I see these girls back here who have graduated and they come and watch us with tears in their eyes of joy. I play for them. I play for the girls who didn't have the chance to hold this plaque."
With three victories in Saturday's sub-state tournament at THS, the Chieftains advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1993.
Tonganoxie also ended a six-year drought of losing in the sub-state championship match. The Chieftains booked themselves a ticket 150 miles west on Interstate 70 to Salina, the site of the 2007 Class 4A state volleyball tournament.
"I finally get to celebrate after this tournament," Franiuk said of sub-state. "Nothing can beat that. I feel awesome. This is the top victory I've ever had. I love it."
The Chieftains will make an appearance at state for the fourth time in school history. THS advanced to state in 1988, 1991 and 1993. The highest it ever placed was fourth. Senior Liz Baska plans to alter history some more this weekend.
"We're taking it all," Baska said, smiling. "We're mentally stronger than we've ever been. (Winning sub-state was) the best feeling. Instead of crying tears of sadness because it's over, it was tears of joy."
The state tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at Salina's Bicentennial Center. Tonganoxie will compete in three pool games Friday: 3:30 p.m. against St. James Academy (Lenexa), 6:30 p.m. against Colby and 8:30 p.m. against Clearwater.
If the Chieftains make it out of pool play, the semifinals would start at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Tonganoxie entered the sub-state tournament as a No. 4 seed, but its 25-11 record was a bit deceiving. A difficult regular-season schedule, which featured matches against many Class 5A and 6A opponents, prepared the Chieftains for what they did to the 4A competition on Saturday.
What they did was simply dominate the tournament.
Tonganoxie defeated Basehor-Linwood in the first round, 25-18 and 25-10.
THS then faced No.1-seeded Holton in the semifinals. The Wildcats knocked the Chieftains out of sub-state last season at Holton's gymnasium.
Different year, different outcome.
Tonganoxie won a close first game, 25-23, then slammed the door on Holton, 25-16.
"We have the ultimate respect for Holton, their program and the way that they play," THS co-coach Brandon Parker said. "In a postseason setting, if you can defeat a team like that, you feel good about it because they're well-coached and they're a great team."
Tonganoxie kept its momentum rolling through the championship match against No. 2-seeded Jefferson West. The Chieftains owned the match and easily won in two games, 25-9 and 25-11.
Outside hitters Franiuk and Tracie Hileman provided crowd-pleasing spikes throughout the tournament, particularly in the finals. The back row, featuring senior defensive specialist Hannah Herrstrom, set up passes perfectly. Timely passes translated into echoing kills by Franiuk and Hileman.
After some of Hileman's kills, the senior would keep jumping in rhythm with intensity. She's extremely vocal on the court. So much that her voice was barely present after the tournament.
"My voice has been gone since Rossville," Hileman said of the Sept. 15 tournament where the Chieftains went 3-3. "I was screaming, but that's no different than usual."
The THS student section led the cheers for Hileman, who was a few feet above the net before she pounded some of her kills.
"Brandon Parker always tells me that I get wide eyes like I'm hungry at the grocery store," Hileman said. "I try not to freak out when I go up to swing, but I do get really excited. You can tell when something good's going to happen and you're up in the air."
Franiuk pounded the sub-state winning point past the Jefferson West defense. Game, match and tournament over.
"We've been bordering on that great mark and we hit great tonight," THS co-coach Tiffany Parker said. "Now we need to put a couple of exclamation marks next to it. We're not satisfied with where we're at. The idea is to go in and show people why we're there."
Get your state information at tonganoxie.com
Check tonganoxie.com Friday and Saturday for online content from Salina. There will be game updates and a blog from sports editor Eric Sorrentino.
Also, check out www.ljworld.com/podcasts to listen to a podcast on the THS volleyball team.