The Dodge City Red Demons volleyball team finished its season with a loss Saturday night, falling to Garden City in two sets by scores 25-9, 25-12.
Dodge City had beaten Haysville Campus High School by scores 25-21 and 25-21 to advance to play Garden City in the finals of the sub-state tournament. Overall the team finished 9-27.
The team held its season celebration Monday night, officially capping the team’s year.
Red Demons head varsity coach Amy Fleener said next year's team could be really good.
“I think we’re gonna be really strong,” Fleener said. “One of the things from last year to this year I was really looking for us to do was learn how to compete and handle adversity, and we didn’t push through and finish matches quite as well as I wanted us to this year, but I did see a lot of improvement in the way that we fought and the way that we desired to win.”
The win over Campus in this season’s sub-state tournament could prove to be a key moment in the team learning to finish, and is something the team can build off of going into next season, Fleener said.
“They finally figured it out,” Fleener said. “They figured out how to hold onto the lead and push through and win a match.”
The Red Demons played well in both sets against Campus, Fleener said, but the scores of 25-21 in both sets showed the match was close and certainly not a foregone conclusion.
Key to that victory and the team’s efforts this season were juniors who, if they return, could help the team with their experience. In the team’s home dual against Liberal, six of the 14 players listed on the varsity roster were juniors who could return as seniors next year.
That would give this team a huge jump in seniors after the team played with just two this season.
Senior leadership, however, may not be the team’s only strength next season. Against Liberal, Dodge City played three sophomores and two freshman.
And those are hardly the only strong young players in the program, Fleener said.
“That freshman-sophomore group is loaded, and I am super-excited about the competition and the athleticism that they’re gonna bring to the beginning of the season next year,” Fleener said.
Fleener gave credit to junior varsity coach Ashley Podschun for her role in teaching the players the skills necessary to be ready to make the jump to varsity, something she said every one of them is capable of doing.
“All of em that played JV are legitimate contenders for Varsity spots next year,” Fleener said. “There’s just an incredible amount of talent and they had a lot of fun this year, they played hard, coach (Podschun) my JV coach just did a fabulous job of teaching them the game and breaking down the individual skill elements.”
Fleener said it takes about three years for a coach to get their system and culture infused into a volleyball program. Next year will be that year.
“I think we’re sitting in a really good position,” Fleener said.
With the potential move up to varsity for some of the junior varsity athletes, members of the freshman team will have an opportunity to move up in to those opening JV slots. Fleener said she doesn’t see it as very likely any will make the jump straight to varsity though, because there are so many players ahead of them who have been training in the system longer.
“They made tremendous gains from the beginning of the season to the end,” Fleener said. “Their learning-curve’s just a little bigger, and unfortunately the numbers in front of them are so big that in a different year, maybe, but just because (of) the numbers in the JV group and the returning Varsity group, that’s gonna be a daunting task for them.”
Fleener’s favorite moments this season included beating Liberal High School in a five-set match, and beating Campus in the sub-state for a win in the sub-state round, which has been an uncommon thing, she said.
“Just watching the girls celebrate, in pure joy, when that 25th-point dropped: Those are why you do what you do (as a coach),” Fleener said.
Now, the team will look to build on this year’s efforts, hopefully toward a state championship. Fleener said she has some goals for next season.
“I want us to be an above-.500 team, and I want us to take the next step in the offense and run the quicker-pace offense,” Fleener said. “We started to this year, I mean we got some more, faster paced things in, but not as consistently as I would like us to and I think we can.”
Lastly, Fleener said she wants the team to take the next step in the process they started to learn this year: Finishing.
“We lost several matches that were in the 20’s,” Fleener said. “I want us to go ahead and learn how to finish those, instead of the opponent finishing us.”