On the fourth point of the opening set against Dodge City in September 2016, Garden City Community College outside hitter Hannah Hattabaugh went up for an attack, and came down in an awkward fashion on the hardwood of the Perryman Athletic Complex.
For what felt like forever inside of the gym, Hattabaugh was prone on the floor, screaming in pain and clutching her knee.
If it weren’t a horrific sight, the Buster volleyball team might have been used to it, considering in the previous conference match, the Busters lost their other top outside hitter, Shaney Tiumalu, to a similar knee injury.
Both players missed the rest of the season, and what could have been a turnaround season was derailed into the second-consecutive 2-14 conference record (6-28 overall). But third-year head coach Jacque Matula is putting the disappointment of last season in the rear-view mirror.
“I’ve basically just made sure we’re taking care of our bodies, and make sure (the players) know this is a whole different team,” she said Tuesday during an evening practice. “We have a whole different group.”
The core of that group will be led by Tiumalu — who would have easily been an All-Region selection in 2016 if not for the injury — All-Region libero Bailey Martinez, Madison Troyer and Madison Park.
Martinez led the Jayhawk Conference in digs per set (7.23), and Tiumalu’s 3.87 kills per set would have been third-best in the conference if she played the entire season.
Park, a setter, played in 33 matches a season ago, racking up 401 assists (3.58 per match). She also had 25 service aces. Troyer played sparingly, but the middle blocker did see action in 20 matches.
Add in what Martinez called a “great bunch of incoming freshmen,” and perhaps the turnaround was just delayed a season.
“We have great talent this year. Everybody has been really positive this year,” Martinez said. “We’re all really excited for the season to start.”
For Tiumalu, that will result in more success on the court.
“We’re gonna win more games,” she said. “The girls already connect better than we did last year. We’re a family quicker than we were last year.”
Now, it’s just a matter of the Busters being able to avoid the injury bug. Though, Matula is more confident in the roster depth this season.
“We have more all-around players (this season) than just positional girls,” she said. “I have two girls who played middle in high school who can transition from outside to middle, if need be. We have plenty of setters and our defense is going to be really good, and continue to challenge Bailey and push her to where she needs to be.
“So it’s going to be exciting to see where these girls push each other.”
The Busters’ season opener is set for Aug. 25 at the New Mexico Military Institute’s invitational tournament in Roswell, N.M. Their home opener is Sept. 7 against Laramie, Wyo., set to be played in the back gym of the Perryman Athletic Complex because of the renovations to the front gym, which will be named Conestoga Arena.