Junction City High School’s Shenk Gymnasium was buzzing with action Saturday as the Blue Jays were the one of the hosts of the Kansas State High School Activities Association Class 6A Sub-State Volleyball tournament. Along with Junction City, Manhattan, Washburn Rural and Topeka High teams competed for a chance to advance to the next round. In the end, Washburn Rural, the number one seed, took the hardware home and earned another day of playing. The rest, finished their season.
The day was an opportunity for the Lady Blue Jays to shine in one final home appearance, a fact that weighed on coach Basil Nevill.
“I think it was a great opportunity for them,” he said. “Throughout their career, whether it was freshman, JV or varsity level, they've only had a handful of games here. So, I think it does a good service for all the things that they put into our program.”
Junction City, who earned the fourth seed with their 9-23 record, faced Washburn Rural in the opening match of the day.
Rural quickly let the Lady Jays, and the audience assembled both in person and via the streamed game on YouTube, why they were 29-4 on the year and the number one seed.
The Lady Junior Blues rolled on a 7-0 run early to take the commanding lead. With several taller players who could leap, the Lady Junior Blues were a force on the court.
Coming into the match, Nevill said he thought with recent successes the Lady Jays could stand toe-to-toe with Rural.
“I think coming out of last weekend's tournament, we played a really great game against Kapaun from Wichita,” Nevill said. “And they look similar, don't necessarily play quite as well as Washburn. But they look similar and we took them 27-25 — all the way down to the wire in one of our sets. And, it was some of the best volleyball we've played.
“So, I was really encouraged that we were able to do that last weekend,” he added. “And I kind of tried to build off of that, as we prepared for Washburn. Going back and looking at film, when we played [Rural] here the first time, we had a lot of mishandles on the ball, and so, I just tried to reassure them that we were a much different team now.”
Junction City fought back with some kills and tips of their own to find gaps in coverage.
The Lady Jays were able to put themselves into key positions throughout the match to stop the monster kills aimed at them, but in the end they fell 25-14 in the first set.
“Some of the things we talked about blocking wise, being up before they contact the ball,” Nevill said. “If our blocker is at her highest point when she jumps, it can influence the way the attacker swings on the other side of the net. And we talked about positioning where they have tendencies to play the ball more. And I think, we were able to get some better contacts, better touches on the ball today than we did the first time we played them.”
Junction City came off the bench aggressive and hungry for points in the second set. They score the first two points of the set taking advantage of mental errors by the Rural front line.
The Lady Junior Blues came back to tie and take the lead before stretching out on a 10-point run late in the set.
Down 21-4, the Lady Jays were able to score when senior Catherine Ferriera tipped the ball over the front line into the unprepared back line.
The quick momentum change was short-lived as the aggressive Lady Jays moved too far forward from the back line earning Rural a point in the process of losing the serve. Rural completed the sweep of the Lady Jays 25-9 to end the teams season with at 9-24.
Nevill said he hopes the younger players who return next season take opportunities over the off season to participate in club volleyball programs or work on things learned this season to come out swinging next fall.
“I think that some of the advantages that the Seamen and the Washburn Rural teams have — some of those Kansas City teams — they, every year, have girls that are just groomed for volleyball,” he said. “They have the volleyball instinct because they play club in the off-season. And some of that is what I'm trying to grow here in terms of program, getting more experience in the offseason to make this season better each year.”