One match was all that separated the Hillsboro High School Lady Trojans last year from making a third appearance at the 3A state volleyball tournament in four years.
However, the Sacred Heart Lady Knights sent Hillsboro home with a 31-6 mark, outlasting the Trojans in the final game of sub-state.
As fifth-year coach Sandy Arnold gears up for another season, she’s not convinced her team can’t make another strong push at crashing the state tournament.
“We have a small, but solid nucleus of girls returning with experience,” Arnold said. “Our girls also are becoming very knowledgeable about the game of volleyball, and will hopefully use this to our advantage on the court.
“We will need to be aggressive confident in our strengths.”
Graduation took its toll on the Trojans with eight impact players being lost.
That’s enough to make any coach leery, but don’t count Arnold as one of them.
“We will be looking for some new people to fill the holes,” she said. “It will take time for the team to gel and for the new people to gain some varsity experience.”
At the top of the pack is junior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman.
The six-foot Kaufman was a unanimous All-MCAA first team performer as well as being named second-team All-Class 3A.
Kaufman gives the Trojans an imposing force on the front line and her athleticism may allow her to place her name alongside the many other former Hillsboro standouts before she’s finished.
The front line features some height and experience with Kassidi Luthi back at middle hitter.
Luthi’s 5-10 frame allows her to play solid on the blocks but she also may be able to contribute on the back row as effectively.
Having an efficient front row isn’t possible without a good setter, and Arnold definitely has that with junior Candace Weinbrenner.
Weinbrenner possesses a wealthy knowledge of the game, and her serving makes her one of the Trojans’ best.
Rounding out the four letter-winners is senior Tiffany Rooker.
Rooker is not incredibly tall at 5-6, but she made a smooth transition to the frontline from her outside hitter position.
Other players looking to figure into the mix are seniors Jet Skiles and Cassie Kroeker.
Skiles is 5-5 and may be used as a libero while Kroeker is 5-4.
Regardless where Arnold decides to play them, they’ll be a boastful addition to her lineup.
The quartet of Tara Heinrichs, Taryn Mayfield, Jandee Miles, and Andrea Bartel help round out the junior class, while Allie Faul and Franny Gottsch are the lone underclassmen.
From top to bottom, Arnold projects an evenly matched season in the MCAA, but after winning the Sept. 6 league tournament, Hillsboro looks like the team to beat so far.
The Canton-Galva tournament Oct. 4 always posts a strong field with perennial Heart of America powerhouses Little River and Moundridge usually in attendance.
The Trojan Invitational two weeks later could feature Conway Springs, Minneapolis, and possibly league foe Hoisington.
“Despite the loss of several seniors, the team is enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead of them and will challenge themselves to keep the tradition strong at HHS,” said Arnold. “This has been a hard working, focused group in practice that is looking to finish strong in the end.”