TOPEKA — After suffering two lopsided straight-set losses to No. 4 Blue Valley North (25-11, 25-11) and to No. 1 Olathe Northwest (25-15, 25-16), all the Garden City Lady Buffaloes volleyball team had to play for in their final match was pride.
As the No. 5 seed in the eight-team field and playing in Pool I against North and Olathe Northwest, the Lady Buffs tried to salvage their last match of the Class 6A state tournament against No. 8 seed Wichita Northwest.
And they made the most of the opportunity, but just barely.
In an emotional, hard-fought, roller-coaster three-setter, the Lady Buffs somehow dug deep late, winning against the Lady Grizzlies 25-20, 15-25, 25-22.
It allowed the Lady Buffs to head back home with their heads held high and complete a season with a 27-14 record.
When it came to crunch time in the final set, the Lady Buffs went to senior outside hitter Erika Schafer and junior hitter Kyra Bellows, who clinched the victory with a no-return kill into the middle of the Northwest defense.
It brought an end to an exhausting day that saw the Lady Buffs perhaps show some nervousness as the opening match against Blue Valley North unfolded.
“Our nerves got to us a little bit more than usual with it being our first trip to state,” Schafer said afterward. “It was just everybody that way. I could sit up in the stands and feel okay, but when I put my jersey on and got out on the floor, the nerves were definitely there.”
Even in their tough three-setter against Northwest, Schafer said she and her teammates still struggled.
“We just weren’t in the usual positions for us to play our best, but we knew Northwest would be a tough match, even though they were the easiest one of the day,” Schafer said.
Abby Piha, completing her first full season as head coach, said she was happy that the Lady Buffs could pull off one win to end the tournament.
“We kinda had our heads in the right place for the first time all day,” Piha said of the final match. “It’s a great way to send the seniors out and just a good way to end the day.”
Piha said the team’s first trip to state in 10 years ended up being a bit overwhelming.
“None of the girls have ever experienced state, and it’s my first year fully coaching, so I think we all learned something from this,” Piha said. “We hope to take some things away from this that will help us in the future.”
For some unexplained reason, Piha said, the team came out flat.
In their opening match loss to Blue Valley North, the Lady Buffs just couldn’t seem to get synced with each other.
Everything was just off, from serving to serve return to blocks and not tracking returns from the Lady Mustangs.
“I think maybe we were just overwhelmed by the atmosphere,” said Piha. “In the first match (Blue Valley North), we just got down early emotionally and couldn’t get ourselves back up and out of our funk.”
In the first set, North started out with a 6-2 lead, extended it to 15-8 by the midway point, then iced the set with a 10-3 run to win 25-11.
It was much the same in the second set, with the Buffs never in the lead.
After falling behind 6-2 early, they trailed 13-8 and then 17-9. It was another 8-2 finish for the Lady Mustangs to duplicate the first set score at 25-11.
Many net violations were whistled on the Lady Buffs, something they had not seen much during the regular season. At least 10 net violations were called on the Buffs.
“We just saw a lot of calls that we hadn’t seen called all year,” Piha said. “I really don’t have any other way to see what happened.”
While the second match against top-seeded Olathe Northwest didn’t fare much better, the Lady Buffs did up their performance.
In the first set, they led for the first time of the day on four occasions, the last time at 9-8 and were playing some of their best ball of the tournament.
They were going toe-to-toe with the Lady Ravens when it was 13-15, but once again the power of the top-seeded team was just too much for the Lady Buffs, as the favored Ravens rang up a 10-2 finish for the first set.
“If we had played against North like we did Northwest, that first match might have turned out differently,” Piha said.
By then, it just seemed like all the steam, all the momentum had been drained from the Lady Buffs. An early 2-1 lead was the last hurrah, as the Ravens poured it on.
It was 12-1 run from that point for a 13-2 Northwest margin, and the Buffs could draw no closer than 15-23. The lead was simply too insurmountable to overcome.
When the Lady Buffs dropped the second set against Wichita Northwest, it was a scene she had become all to familiar with through the earlier portion of the season.
“We just hit that second-set issue and it’s something I can’t explain,” Piha said. “I’m just glad we can take away that last win.”
Olathe Northwest and Blue Valley North were playing the final match in Pool I for seeding purposes into Saturday’s scheduled 2 p.m. semifinals at the Expocentre.
In Pool II, it appeared Blue Valley West, which was 2-0 entering its final match against Washburn Rural, would be one of the two qualifiers. The other qualifier was still to be determined.
Class 6A State Tournament
at Kansas Expocentre/Topeka
Olathe Northwest def. Wichita Northwest 25-6, 25-9
Blue Valley North def. Garden City 25-11, 25-11
Olathe Northwest def. Garden City 25-15, 25-16
Blue Valley North def. Wichita Northwest 25-22, 25-13
Garden City def. Wichita Northwest 25-20, 15-25, 25-22
Olathe Northwest vs. Blue Valley North
Blue Valley West def. Blue Valley Northwest 27-25, 25-14
Topeka-Washburn Rural def. Manhattan 21-25, 25-21, 25-14
Blue Valley West def. Manhattan 25-13, 25-20
Blue Valley Northwest def. Topeka-Washburn Rural 17-25, 29-27, 25-22
Blue Valley Northwest vs. Manhattan
Blue Valley West vs. Topeka-Washburn Rural
Olathe Northwest and Blue Valley North advance from Pool I to Saturday’s 2 p.m. semifinals; Blue Valley West and.