It’s hard to definitively know what is more impressive about the Spearville Lancers girls volleyball team: The fact they won the Southern Plains - Iroquois Activities Association League Tournament Saturday, or the fact they remained undefeated in doing so.
The Lancers earned their banner by beating the tournament host and No. 4 seed Kiowa County Mavericks by scores 25-15, 25-18.
Spearville got there by beating South Central for the third time this season, in the semifinals before facing Kiowa County.
Sophomore libero Alissa Heskamp said the team’s confidence right now is “pretty high” and that it felt good to win the tournament.
“It was awesome,” Heskamp said. “It’s a great experience.”
Junior hitter Ehlaina Hartman was a big part of that, raining down blocks and kills throughout the night, regardless of opponent. She said it meant a lot to the team to win the tournament.
“We’ve worked hard, we’ve done a lot of different movements in our rotations and I think everyone just kind of does their role and it helps a lot,” Hartman said.
This year, the team has a lot of confidence she said.
“Last year we were kind of the underdogs of Kiowa and South Central, but this year we came out on top and it’s just, it’s going good,” Hartman said. “We’re all excited and pumped and ready to play.”
One of the highlights of the match between Kiowa County and Spearville was in the first set when Kiowa County senior Brecken VandenHoek, one of the best players on the Mavericks both in basketball and volleyball, lined up across from Hartman.
It was a head-to-head matchup of two of the best athletes in SPIAA, two tall athletes with a lot of hitting and blocking power. In the first set especially it showed, as each went up at various points for an attempted kill only to find the other going up to block it.
At times, each overpowered the other, both as a blocker and as a defender. Both also play basketball, meaning it’s highly likely they’ll see each other again in competition this year, even if Saturday ends up being the last time they see each other on the volleyball court.
“Me and Brecken, we’ve done a lot against each other in sports and stuff,” Hartman said. “I think she’s a really great athlete and I’ve just got to try to like stay with her or (I’ll) fall behind.”
Pool play started well enough for the Lancers, who beat the Satanta Indians by scores 25-11, 25-16 then beat the South Gray Rebels 25-15, 25-14. South Gray ended up finishing fourth in the tournament, losing to South Central 25-20, 25-10.
Spearville’s biggest struggle of the day came in the team’s third and final match of pool play against the Pawnee Heights Tigers.
Pawnee Heights entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed, and in set one, they jumped on Spearville early, clearly bringing more energy and intensity to the match.
The Tigers led 1-0 and 2-1 before taking the lead for the final time in set one 6-5, a lead they never relinquished, despite some heroic efforts by Heskamp, who went diving into the bench area to a keep a ball in play while the Lancers trailed 7-5.
They were able to get the ball back over the net on the play, but eventually ended up losing the point to fall behind 8-5, eventually falling in set one 22-25.
It was the only set the team lost the entire tournament.
“I think that the girls took Pawnee Heights really lightly,” Spearville head coach Syble Thompson said. “They have beat them before, and it wasn’t a difficult game that we played (against) them last time, and I think that the girls came out there thinking ‘Oh we got this, we’re going to win’ and I don’t even think they really warmed up or stretched or really got their (minds ready) to play against Pawnee Heights.”
Thompson said she always tells the team it can’t underestimate anybody because any team can beat any other on any given day.
Minneola was an example of that. The Wildcats forced Kiowa County into a third set, beating the Mavericks 26-24 in set two before eventually losing the third set to lose the match.
Spearville ended up prevailing over Pawnee Heights by scores 22-25, 25-15, 25-13.
“When we came out after pool play, we went in the other gym and we warmed up, we got pumped up, we got fired up, and it’s like ‘Hey, we aren’t taking no prisoners today,’” Thompson said.
After that, the team rolled, first against a South Central team which lost an absolute nail-biter to end pool play against Kiowa County, then against Kiowa County, largely due to incredible blocking, particularly by Hartman, junior Brianna Ede, senior Gracie Bates, junior Mackenzie Foos, senior Taige Kliesen and freshman Anna Stein.
“I think that our girls are more sure of themselves,” Thompson said. “They’re more confident in themselves because we’ve been working on some things with blocking and our defense.”
The coaches are telling the girls to go up and be aggressive both in the block and in all aspects of their game, Thompson said.
“I think their confidence in their block and what they’re supposed to do at the net is what’s pushing them forward,” Thompson said.
That was key against Kiowa County, as was the their fast start.
“I think blocks deflate someone’s confidence, so I think that was huge,” Thompson said.
In set one against the Lancers, the Mavericks scored the first two points to lead 2-0, but a service error made the score 2-1 and gave the Lancers their first in a five-point run to make the score 5-2, at which point the Mavericks took a timeout.
“From the very beginning I always knew that we had good hitters,” Thompson said. “I knew we had girls that could put the ball away, and I think that if we can’t get to Ehlaina then we can get to somewhere else, and I think that’s really huge because our girls rely on each other to do their job, and so I think it’s important for us to be able to rely on all our other hitters as well. That’s huge.”
The last regular season tests for the Lancers come Oct. 9 as the team heads to Ashland for a triangular with Ashland, Ingalls and Pawnee Heights.
Here were the scores from each match Saturday, courtesy of SPIAA and Kiowa County High School:
2. Kiowa County
3. South Central
4. South Gray
Play-In game results (which consisted of the bottom eight seeds):
- South Gray beat Hodgeman County 25-18, 25-15
- Minneola beat Fowler 25-11, 25-10
- Bucklin beat Ingalls 27-25, 26-24
- Satanta beat Ashland 26-24, 20-25, 25-21
- Hodgeman County beat Ashland 25-12, 25-21
- Ingalls beat Fowler 25-15, 25-11
- Hodgeman County beat Ingalls 25-23, 23-25, 25-19
- Ashland beat Fowler 25-18, 25-20
Championship Pool Play
- Spearville beat Satanta 25-11, 25-16
- South Central beat Bucklin 25-16, 25-13
- South Gray beat Pawnee Heights 25-22, 25-22
- Kiowa County beat Minneola 25-15, 24-26, 25-15
- Spearville beat South Gray 25-15, 25-14
- South Central beat Minneola 25-17, 25-22
- Pawnee Heights beat Satanta 25-22, 27-25
- Kiowa County beat Bucklin 25-22, 25-17
- Spearville beat Pawnee Heights 22-25, 25-15, 25-13
- Kiowa County beat South Central 24-26, 30-28, 25-20
- South Gray beat Satanta 25-16, 25-21
- Minneola beat Bucklin 30-28, 25-23
- Spearville beat South Central 25-16, 25-11
- Kiowa County beat South Gray 25-21, 25-14
Consolation (third place game)
- South Central beat South Gray 25-20, 25-10
- Spearville beat Kiowa County 25-13, 25-18