By BRETT MARSHALL
When Whitney Linenberger accepted her science teaching and girls volleyball coaching positions at Dighton High School, little did she realize that her first year of doing both would produce the kind of excitement that has surrounded the Lady Hornets program.
That's what happens when you are coaching a team that just won its first sub-state tournament in school history, and on Friday will play in its first state volleyball tournament.
"I count my lucky stars, but really all the credit has to go to Cindi Cramer," Linenberger, a former Holcomb High School (freshman/sophomore) and Dighton High School (junior/senior) student, said. "She's the one that taught all these girls the fundamentals, the sets and how to play. I just kind of came in and tried not to mess things up."
The Lady Hornets (20-15) won their Class 1A-Division II over top-seeded Victoria (29-6), and will open pool play at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Gross Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Fort Hays State University against No. 2-seeded Norwich (31-4). From there, they will face Baileyville B&B (35-6) and Bucklin (23-15). The top two teams out of each of the two pools advance to Saturday's semifinals.
In the other pool are Hutchinson-Central Christian (31-2), Altoona-Midway (5-31), Weskan (31-17) and Logan (21-12).
Linenberger, who graduated last spring from FHSU, said the opportunity to return to her hometown and school was just too good to pass up. Add in the fact that her parents still farm in Lane County and the match was made. The sub-state title was a little like early Christmas.
"Saturday was just one of those days where I knew we could (win) and it was a matter of the girls going out and actually doing it," an enthusiastic Linenberger said on Monday. "I'm having a great day and I'm going to have a great week. Nobody's gonna make me unhappy this week. It's such a great feeling."
Cramer, who stepped down from the DHS varsity coaching position to coach at the junior high level — in part to be able to watch her daughter, senior Katrin, play — has been a big assist to Linenberger, the rookie coach said.
"Lucky for me, I've got a bunch of seniors and then some really good sophomores, and the seniors have a lot of experience and provided great leadership," Linenberger said.
Her seniors include outside hitter Sarah Mulville, middle hitter Paige Gridley, setter Katren Cramer, weakside hitter Brittany Burns and Hannah Speer, who subs in to serve and plays a strong back row.
"They're all good at their respective areas," Linenberger said of her seniors. "Every team needs that one person to keep things together, and for us that's Katrin. She's our lifesaver, our heart and soul. Her hands are like butter. She just knows where everybody is, where the ball needs to go, she's the one that keeps things organized on the floor for us."
Her top two sophomores are 5-8 Diamond Brown and 5-7 Shambrey Budd.
"They're just two bundles of energy with great physical skills," Linenberger said of the two sophomores.
The Lady Hornets' first post-championship practice came bright and early at 6:15 a.m. Monday, as many of the players also are in the school band.
"They came, we worked hard for an hour and 45 minutes and the girls were focused," Linenberger said. "They are having fun and that's the way I want to keep it for them all week. I want them to feel good about what we're doing. That's why you go out for sports."
Linenberger knows that come Friday, the competition at state will be at a higher level.
"On any given day, you can beat anybody you play," Linenberger said. "No matter what happens, from here it's all icing on the cake."
3:30 p.m. vs. Norwich; 6:30 p.m. vs. Baileyville B&B; 7:30 p.m. vs. Bucklin.
Katren Cramer, 5-6, Sr.; Sarah Mulville, 5-5, Sr.; Leslie Speer, 5-8, So.; Shambrey Budd, 5-7, So.; Diamond Brown, 5-8, So.; Brittany Burns, 5-5, Sr.; Paige Gridley, 5-7, Sr.; Liz Heath, 5-9, So.; Mandie Bennett, 5-4, So.; Katie Lingg, 5-4, So.; Kori Sanchez, 5-3, Fr.; Hannah Speer, 5-8, Sr.