THS volleyball could face reigning state champs
Unless he has psychic powers, Tonganoxie High volleyball co-coach Brandon Parker must have the Thunder on his mind.
Speaking with him about an upcoming sub-state tournament reveals just how much the team’s coaches and players have thought about getting placed in a Class 4A bracket with perennial powerhouse St. James Academy.
Here’s what to ask: How many years in a row have the Chieftains…
“Three,” Parker will interject.
… been in the same sub-state as St. James?
It’s no wonder the coach knows the answer to the question before it can be asked. SJA has won the state championship each of the past three seasons and was even named the 2010 national champ by PrepVolleyball.com. The Thunder ended Tonganoxie’s season at sub-state in 2009 and won a sub-state championship on the Chieftains’ home floor a year ago.
The fact that the best volleyball program in Kansas again stands in the way of THS getting back to state for the first time since 2007 would have to be, at the very least, unsettling.
So, are the Chieftains tired of seeing St. James show up in their sub-state bracket?
“I don’t think anybody likes to see them in their bracket, but we’ve talked all year about what we do is gonna be bigger than volleyball,” Parker said. “You don’t always get in life what you want.”
Based on how THS (27-10) has played of late, winning six straight matches entering its season finale at Bonner Springs, the players, according to senior libero Megan Hummelgaard, might just get what they want.
“This past week we’ve picked up wins that we really needed to get a higher seed at sub-state, because we really want to get to that point where we’re playing St. James. That’s our main goal,” she said.
That was the Chieftains’ goal last season, too, before they were upset at home by Piper in a sub-state semifinal. Hummelgaard said they are hoping for a better outcome this Saturday in Lenexa, on St. James’ home court.
“I think we’re all really excited to actually, hopefully, get there this year,” she said of facing SJA, “instead of what happened last year.”
Tonganoxie’s libero admitted it is frustrating to be in the same sub-state as such a great program. Hummelgaard said she and fellow seniors Brooklyn Kerbaugh, Kailan Kuzmic, Sagan Scates and Haley Smith would love to go to state in their final season at THS.
“Nobody says that we can’t,” Hummelgaard said. “We’re gonna go out and do our best, like we do every year. That’s really all you can do.”
With dreams of state in their minds, it would be easy for players to look ahead to a match against St. James, but Tonganoxie junior Hannah Kemp said the team learned last year at sub-state it can’t overlook its other opponents.
“As much as it’s hard not to (overlook others), you have to see everything before and worry about what’s in front of you instead of what’s coming next,” Kemp said.
The Chieftains’ five seniors and juniors Kemp, Madee Walker and Jenny Whitledge all experienced what can happen if they’re only thinking about SJA. The only current THS player who wasn’t part of last year’s semifinal loss to Piper is Katelyn Waldeier.
With teams such as Basehor-Linwood, Bishop Ward, Bonner Springs, De Soto, Piper and Sumner Academy making up the rest of the tournament, Parker said Tonganoxie must play well, regardless of its opponent.
“Sub-state’s a funny time. If you play well, you’re in matches,” he said, noting that win-loss records don’t tend to matter on the sub-state stage.
“On any given Saturday, anything can happen,” Parker said.
If that is true, would it be impossible for Tonganoxie to beat St. James?
Said Hummelgaard: “Nothing’s impossible. It’ll be tough, but I think we’ll be up for the challenge.”
Given the opportunity to meet the defending champs, Kemp said the Chieftains would give SJA their best shot.
“I don’t think in the game of volleyball it’s impossible to beat anyone, because it’s such a game about momentum,” Kemp said.
As for Parker, he reiterated that anything is possible.
“I’m not disrespecting St. James by saying that, but at the same time to state impossible means you don’t have a chance in the world,” Parker said. “St. James is obviously a pretty incredible team. If we would ever be in a situation to play them, we would have to play our best ball to give ourselves a chance to be in the match.”
The sub-state tournament begins Saturday afternoon at St. James, in Lenexa. Times and seeds for the matches will be announced Wednesday.