Sorrentino: Unsung THS volleyball hero? Look to schedule
The Tonganoxie High volleyball team's first state tournament berth in 14 years can be attributed to many factors. Among them could be:
1. Eight of their nine players are seniors.
2. The Chieftains played in the comfort of their own gymnasium and had a raucous fan base supporting their cause at sub-state.
3. Tonganoxie has lost in the sub-state championship match the past six years. This year, the Chieftains warmed up to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" before every match and had a sign that read the title of the song on the wall. It was time for them to advance.
After THS students stormed the court and jumped in unison with their pointer fingers in the air, I got to thinking why this team was indeed No. 1 at sub-state.
My answer? Scheduling.
Call it plain or call it simple, but I think it deserves mention alongside or even higher than the aforementioned three factors.
Take into consideration that more than 30 percent of Tonganoxie's opponents (12 of 39) this season were Kansas Class 5A or 6A schools.
We're not talking poor schools, either. Class 4A Tonganoxie (28-11) faced a Blue Valley West team on Oct. 16 ranked No. 1 in the entire state of Kansas at the time, according to the Kansas Volleyball Association poll. Blue Valley West is 29-6 and the No. 2 seed in the 6A state tournament.
Remember that team from Olathe that beat Tonganoxie in the finals of its own invitational on Sept. 22? Those same Olathe East Hawks finished the season 27-10 and are the No. 4 seed in the 6A tournament.
Or how about Sept. 25, when Tonganoxie faced Class 5A Lansing. The Lions are 38-2 and the No. 2 seed in the 5A state tournament.
Finally, there's St. James Academy (Lenexa), a 4A school that likely could beat any team in the state. It gave Lansing one of its two losses all year. Tonganoxie faced St. James in the finals of the Oct. 6 De Soto Spikefest.
It's fair to say St. James isn't too bad. The Thunder is only 41-0 and the No. 1 seed in the 4A state tournament. In fact, Tonganoxie will face St. James at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina for its first match of pool play at state.
"We played tough competition all season," THS co-coach Tiffany Parker said. "It was for a reason. "We knew we weren't going to have the greatest record because of it."
Tonganoxie lost those matches against Blue Valley West, Olathe East, Lansing and St. James. The Chieftains had 11 losses heading into sub-state and were a No. 4 seed entering the tournament.
But really, who cares?
Tonganoxie may have lost to the 5A and 6A powers, but those matches simply prepared THS for sub-state domination.
Granted, the sub-state semifinals against No. 1 seed Holton was no cakewalk. Tonganoxie and Holton split two regular season encounters. Holton knocked Tonganoxie out of the sub-state finals last season. There was history involved, but THS prevailed, 25-23 and 25-16.
Then, there was the championship against No. 2 seed Jefferson West. I haven't followed Jeff West this season, but I'm quite certain it didn't go through the rugged schedule THS did.
It showed on the court. Tonganoxie was faster to the ball and connected on nearly every pass. On defense, if senior libero Hannah Herrstrom somehow missed a dig (which has rarely happened all year), Lindsey Himpel was in position to back her up.
Junior Chrissy Jeannin dove on the floor various times to save points. Outside hitters Sami Franiuk and Tracie Hileman found open spots on the floor (by the way, I'd be pleased if I could reach half of their vertical leaping measurements). Shannon Carlin perfected her most exciting maneuver, the one-footed spike where she moves from her front middle position to the outside.
With so many THS weapons, Jeff West was outmatched in a 25-9, 25-11 finals beating.
This weekend in Salina, Tonganoxie will face the best 4A competition in the state. I'm confident in saying the Chieftains will be more than prepared for it.