Archive for Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chieftains volleyball blog

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October 31, 2007

Sunday afternoon update: 3:15 p.m.
What a weekend. Tonganoxie finished its journey in third place, the best state finish in school history. Senior Sami Franiuk called it the most fun she's ever had. It was one of the most fun times I've had doing my job in recent memory.

The last Chieftain to produce a point in the historic season? Senior Liz Baska, who pounded the winning point past the Andover defense. Franiuk, who is Tonganoxie's primary hitter, laughed about it after the match.

"Yeah! Dangit. I wanted that hit," Franiuk quipped. "It was a good hit and I'm glad Liz got it."

New idea for principal Jamie Carlisle or anyone else who will introduce the THS volleyball team in front of an audience in the near future: Tonganoxie volleyball is currently the best Kansas Class 4A public school in the entire state of Kansas. Now that would fire some people up. And it's the truth. Two private schools, St. James Academy (Lenexa) and Topeka-Hayden, played in the championship match.

I'm confused and rather disappointed with Scheme Restaurant's Saturday business hours. Scheme, which I heard had some of the best pizza in Kansas, was closed when I walked to the front doorstep Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Apparently, it didn't open until 4 p.m. Who knows, though, I might be back in Salina soon. Tonganoxie girls basketball this year? Next year's volleyball team?

Speaking of next year's volleyball team...It will have to be one of the most changed THS volleyball teams in recent memory. The Chieftains will lose eight seniors. Junior Chrissy Jeannin was literally the only non-senior who ever played. Should be interesting to see who steps up with all of these open spots.

The story of the tournament was St. James getting upset in the finals by state champion Topeka-Hayden, which knocked Tonganoxie out of the semifinals.

St. James entered the championship match with a 45-0 record. So did this team lose? I decided to ask coach Nancy Dorsey what differed in the championship match from the other 45 matches.

"Truthfully, I think experience had something to do with it," Dorsey said. "(We) got a little nervous. But give it to Hayden. They had the best player in the gym. Number 11, (Corrinne) Stringer, she's amazing and made the difference. They should all be throwing her a party."

Stringer, who will play collegiate volleyball next year at the University of Georgia, gave Tonganoxie trouble, too.

Dorsey mentioned the lack of experience with her team. Here's a scary thought: St. James won't graduate anyone next year. The St. James student section chanted "We'll be back" after the Thunder lost. Can't say I disagree.

"They'll improve again over the summer," Dorsey said. "They'll improve again next year. They're going to come back here and remember how this felt. They're not going to let it happen again."

Well that's all I have. Hopefully, you guys enjoyed reading the blog and maybe even got a few laughs out of it. I'm hoping to do more of this kind of stuff for big THS sports outings, so be sure to check early and often. It's been a blast covering THS athletics in my six months at The Mirror. As The Cars would say, let the good times roll.

Saturday afternoon update: 1 p.m.

We're about an hour before the Chieftains take their best shots at history. If Tonganoxie defeats Topeka-Hayden, it will be the farthest THS has ever advanced in the state tournament.

To see two THS photos from last night, along with a Channel 6 Sports video clip by Andrew Baker and D.J. Whetter, click here.

Log back onto around 3:30 p.m. for live updates from the semifinals. See you then!

Day 1 completed in style: Friday night, 11:47 p.m.

Honestly, this is the best part of my job -- state tournaments. Sure, you wake up early and you go to bed late, but when you get to see matches like the Tonganoxie-Clearwater battle Friday night, it makes it incredibly enjoyable. Let me paint a better picture.

In the first game, no team led by more than three points. Tonganoxie won, 25-23. THS put the match away in the second game by winning, 25-21. And get this: The Chieftains trailed at one point in the second game, 15-10.

I wish I had an exact answer to how THS came back. Maybe it was coaches Brandon and Tiffany Parker challenging their team during a timeout when the team was down five. Or maybe it was in large part because of senior Liz Baska, who produced three consecutive points and gave THS a 19-18 lead. I don't feel comfortable saying either one of those, though.

After THS was down, 15-10, it cut the defecit to 15-14 with four straight points. Four different players produced kills in the span. It's certainly not an individual effort.

The Tonganoxie student section was triple to quadruple that of the Clearwater student section. St. James had a comparable fan base to Tonganoxie, but that was the only other school who seemed to bring as many supporters.

What was up with the scoreboard at this place? It looks nice and all, but it had Tonganoxie appearing as "Chiefs" on the board. Hey, whatever works, I guess. I realize "Chieftains" doesn't fit, but Chiefs? "Tongie" would have fit!

Quote of the day goes to Brandon Parker, when asked about his calm, cool and collected demeanor on the sidelines:

"It's kind of like playing poker," Parker said. "If you have your poker face on, no one reads you really well. All I need is one of those weird-colored visors and some sunglasses. My calmness in the face isn't duplicated by the rate of my heart. My heart rate exceeds probably what is recommended."

Come to think of it, that's one of the better quotes I've ever heard. It's amazing how calm he truly looks on the bench.

I hate to disappoint, but this Texan needs some sleep. Big day tomorrow. Keep checking for updates!

Friday afternoon update: 5 p.m.
So Salina's not such a bad town after all. I rolled into town about 2:30 p.m., about an hour before Tonganoxie's first match against St. James. As I entered the Bicentennial Center, there were various signs posted on the front doors: "No facepainting in the gymnasium." Haha - sorry to spoil your night, Chieftains fans.

As I predicted earlier in the blog, Tonganoxie easily won the battle of the buses. As I entered the parking lot, I saw Tonganoxie's big, blue bus, then several other typical yellow school buses. Point for the Chieftains.

This just (not) in: St. James is for real. The Thunder now stands at 42-0 on the year after defeating Tonganoxie in the first 4A match of the day. It's pretty simple to see why they're undefeated after you watch them play. They're quick, tall, aggressive and yes, schematic. They ran so many formations close to the net that it's nearly impossible to pick out a best player. The scariest part? They're all juniors and won't lose anyone next year. Again, they're currently 42-0.

Kudos to the Tonganoxie student section for keeping the energy up throughout the match. The students showed up this weekend. The most memorable chant I heard came after St. James' student section chanted "She's a freshman," after Hanna Forst slammed a spike home for a point. THS senior Liz Baska responded with a spike of her own, sparking a "She's a senior" chant from the THS student section.

It's been a fun time so far in Salina. See you guys again after the next two matches are done.

Blog opening statements
I have to give Hannah Herrstrom credit. The Tonganoxie High volleyball team is going to the state tournament this weekend for the first time since 1993. If the Chieftains win it, no one will look smarter than Herrstrom, the THS defensive specialist.

Her prediction, at the conclusion of the Sept. 22 Tonganoxie Invitational, in which THS finished second: "The tournament we really care about is in a month," Herrstrom said of the state tournament in Salina. "That's the big one that we want to win -- and we're going to win."

It's presently 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 26. Herrstrom saw this day coming more than a month ago.

Welcome to the Tonganoxie High volleyball blog. I'm Eric Sorrentino, sports editor of The Mirror. I thought I'd keep a blog going all weekend from Salina to keep you updated and maybe halfway-entertained on all the excitement that happens from the Salina Bicentennial Center.

There's a lot to discuss before Tonganoxie's first match of the day at 3:30 p.m. against undefeated St. James Academy (Lenexa).

First, Friday started in rockstar-type fashion for the THS volleyball team, which features eight seniors and one junior. There had to be 100-200 people who showed up at Tonganoxie High School, waiting to send off the Chieftains to Salina.

Speaking of which, I predict Tonganoxie will have a more impressive entrance to Salina than any of the seven other schools in Kansas participating at the state tournament. Did you see the bus they're driving? We're not talking your typical yellow school bus: This ride was slick. It was a blue, tour-looking bus that a rock band could likely be satisfied driving.

What would a state tournament be without new shirts and slogans? As an alum of the University of Kansas, I remember waiting for the KU football slogans every year. Remember the "Chains measure distance, heart measures destination" one? You know, stuff like that. The Chieftains state shirts have small jerseys and numbers on the front, then on the back it reads, "Good is the enemy of great."

Speaking of KU, let me throw this one in there quickly: No. 9 Kansas 31, Texas A&M 28.

If you haven't heard anything about St. James Academy, you undoubtedly will by the end of the weekend. The No. 1-seeded Thunder brings an undefeated 41-0 record to Salina. Intimidating? Maybe. But Class 4A Tonganoxie has seen 5A and 6A competition in more than 30 percent of its matches this season. The Chieftains still have a 28-11 record. THS has seen St. James already, in the finals of the Oct. 6 De Soto Spikefest. THS knocked on the door, but couldn't finish the scare it put into St. James. The Thunder won, 25-20 and 25-22.

First thing that comes to mind when St. James is mentioned?

"They're just another team that has a good record," Herrstrom said. "That doesn't mean anything. We weren't even playing our best when we played them. They haven't seen our best."

It's evident that the Chieftains have a certain confidence to them right now. And why not? They're the lowest seeded team, at No. 8, in the tournament. They're playing the best volleyball they've played all year (victorious in 16 of their last 19 matches). What do they have to lose?

The state tournament is set up in a pool play format. After St. James, Tonganoxie will face Colby at 6:30 p.m. and Clearwater at 8:30 p.m. There's not exactly a formula to the amount of matches needed to advance to Saturday. Eudora, for instance, only won one of its three Friday matches last year, then ended up winning the state tournament.

I'll have another update around 5 p.m. today, so be sure to check back then. I hear this Scheme Pizza is supposed to be some of the best pizza in Kansas. I might have a report on that before too long as well.

In the meantime, take a look at some of the other THS state volleyball content floating around the Web. I'll provide links below.

Congratulations to senior outside hitter Sami Franiuk, who was recently named Channel 6's Scholar Athlete of the Month. Watch 6 Sports Director Kevin Romary's report here.

Here's my latest column, which focuses on the tough Tonganoxie schedule I mentioned.

Check out a podcast on the Tonganoxie High volleyball team here as part of the High School Spodcasters.

That's all for now. See you all again at 5!

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