When the Ulysses Tigers volleyball team qualified as the top team from its pool at Friday’s Class 4A-I state tournament in Salina, it had been a school-history first.
Never had a Tigers volleyball team reached the Final Four, and part of that reason was it had been 25 years since the team had even been to a state tournament — and that was a first back then.
So Tigers head coach Jill Scott told her girls that there was no pressure, but to go out and play hard, have fun, and see where the chips would fall.
While Friday’s 2-1 record in pool play proved the Tigers could play with the state’s best, Saturday’s semifinals and consolation match proved just how tough it is to win matches against elite competition.
The Tigers first lost their semifinal match against No. 1-seeded Rose Hill in straight sets, 25-14, 25-21, before dropping the third-place match against Wellington, a team they had beaten in straight sets Friday, by scores of 25-23, 25-16.
“In the long run, I just told them that they were one of the top four teams in the state,” Scott said in a telephone interview. “Ulysses hadn’t been to state since 1992, so this was only the second time a team had even been there,” Scott emphasized about the level of accomplishment for her squad. “We knew Rose Hill and Louisburg (the other semifinal winner) were really solid, so no matter who we were playing, we knew it was going to be a tough match.”
Rose Hill, which went on to claim the state title with a dramatic three-set victory over Louisburg (23-25, 25-10, 29-27), took control early in the match and the Tigers could never recover.
“They jumped on us early and got us down,” Scott said of Rose Hill. “They were splitting our blockers and found the holes in our defense. They were just faster than we were.”
But it was a much tougher Tiger showing in the second set against the eventual champs, Scott said.
“I thought the girls played well, and fought hard and didn’t quit,” Scott said of that 25-21 second set loss.
If there was one wish for Scott, it would be they would have done better against Wellington in the third-place match.
“We beat them fairly well in the 8:30 (a.m.) match on Friday,” Scott said, “but as we watched them throughout the rest of the day, they got progressively better. They did beat Independence (No. 2 overall seed that beat Ulysses on Friday), so we knew they would be a tougher match-up on Saturday. And they were. They were just doing things well, and not making the mistakes they had on Friday.”
In the end, however, the Tigers, who finished with a 31-11 record, had established a new level of accomplishment for the school’s program.
“I’ve loved the three years I’ve been here, and I know finishing fourth kinda stinks,” Scott said, “but I’m hoping that this will fuel the fire for our younger girls coming up.
“I’ll take 31-11 and fourth place in state any day, and I think the accomplishments are really big deals for the girls, the school, and for the community,” Scott said.