By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

MONTEZUMA In her 11 years as head volleyball coach at South Gray, Vicki Hesser has never reached the Class 1A state tournament.

In her final year as coach of the Lady Rebels, Hesser hopes she can finally lay claim to reaching the penultimate event for Kansas prep teams. If Thursday night's effort is any indication, Hesser may feel good about her team's chances of playing at state in late October at Hays.

The Lady Rebels, who finished 34-5 a year ago and lost in the 1A semifinals to Quivira Heights, lost four starters from that squad a libero, a setter and two middle hitters so the beginning of this season has been trying to assess the proper rotation and placement of her returners.

"We did a lot better job of that tonight than we did last Saturday (one loss to Sharon Springs in the championship game)," Hesser said. "We're still trying to figure it out, but I've got a better feel and how to handle that rotation now."

Thursday night, the Lady Rebels handed nearby 3A rival Cimarron a straight-set loss (25-15, 25-11) before having to fight off a gallant effort by Ingalls (25-21, 25-22). In their closing game, the Rebels belted Ashland (25-11, 25-14). In other matches, Cimarron disposed of Ashland (25-11, 25-9), but fell to Ingalls (19-25, 18-25). Ingalls captured its other match against Ashland (25-15, 25-7).

"I like this rotation and with another week of practice we should be able to work it out even better," senior Shaelyn Kisner said. "We just weren't getting things set up right at Healy but we got better tonight and I think we feel more confident now."

Hesser said three of her seniors Kisner, Baylei Zehr and her daughter, Brigit, have all gained valuable leadership skills from their success in basketball (one state title and another runner-up finish) and that has contributed to this year's strong start.

"They've really stepped up and are doing an awesome job," Hesser said of her seniors.

For the senior Hesser (a second team Telegram All-Area selection), volleyball is helping her with conditioning and just enjoying competing with her teammates.

"We've always had difficulty at sub-state but we hope to be able to overcome that this year," said the player Hesser. "I'm not quite at my best right now because I hurt my shoulder a little, but it will be fine."

For Hesser, who is coaching her final year for the Lady Rebels (the family will move to eastern Kansas), the goal of reaching the state seems of little concern to her right now.

"We always have the expectations of getting there, but our sub-state is always so difficult," Hesser said. "It does seem amazing we've never gotten there, but we just can't seem to jump through that hoop. The (sub-state) is far and away the best we see all season. We'll just see how the season progresses."

The Lady Rebels (7-1) will compete Tuesday at Minneola's quadrangular.