The Maize and Wichita Northwest volleyball teams have a lot in common. Both teams earned state tournament berths at the 6A regional tournament in Garden City Saturday. What really ties them together is the reason they are headed to Topeka. The Lady Eagles and Lady Grizzlies do not claim to play for wins or glory. They play for each other.
“This year, honestly, it has been a pretty easy team to motivate,” said Maize head coach Betsy Manning. “They’ve got seven seniors that have played together for basically six years. Our mantra is family and that’s what we say every day at practice and every day before games. They work hard, they take practice seriously, but they have a lot of fun. The way the cover each other and the way they want to win for each other. That kind of internal motivation makes my job easy.”
The Lady Eagles came in as the No. 2 seed and swept Wichita South in the opening match. Their state qualifying match was not any easier. Garden City came into sub-state as the No. 3 seed and were eager for a fight. Maize took an early lead and maintained it throughout the first game. At 23 points; however, the momentum shifted and the Lady Buffs had tied up the score. The lead changed back and forth until 26 points. The Lady Eagle’s back line remained solid and with two more points they sealed up the first game 28-26.
“We knew coming into today’s regional that this was not going to be easy,” Manning said. “So we came in and we knew we were going to have to fire it up. No matter what we were going to swing, we were going to play aggressive, I knew Lexi had the back row covered and we did a great job on defense. Defense was really strong for us.”
Maize also took the second game with less of a battle 25-12. Manning gave credit to the Garden City team that had exceeded expectations this year but fell short of state.
“That was a strong team and I’ve gotten to see them a couple times this year,” she said. “They have a couple outstanding hitters and I put a lot of faith in our defense and they did their job.”
The Maize seniors understand what it takes to make it to the state tournament. They have qualified for the bracket the past four years. This year they want to be remembered for more than just making it to Topeka.
“It’s our senior year so it’s a pretty big deal,” said Maize senior Alexis Hartzog. “We came in and said, ‘We are not giving up. We are going to state and we are going to do something while we are there.’ We want to go and give everything we’ve got. Don’t settle with just going but doing something while we are there.”
The other side of the 6A regional bracket also resulted in a selfless champion with a large group of seniors. Wichita Northwest entered Garden City with a lot of pressure. The Lady Grizzlies were the No. 1 seed with a record of 34-5. They lived up to expectations in their first match with Haysville-Campus sweeping the Lady Colts in two games. Their championship match was a different story. The expectations became heavy after the Grizzlies dropped their first game to Hutchinson 19-25.
“The expectation is you will win so you expect to come out and be at your best,” said Grizzlies head coach Craig Smith. “When your team is not playing their best and you are not coaching at your best then it becomes a little stressful. In those cases they always stick together and they always play for each other and it turns out well in the end.”
It did not take long for Northwest to turn things around. A dominant offensive attack on the front line as well as a solid back three allowed the Grizzlies to retaliate with a 25-9 win. McHattan said he had complete faith in the leadership of his seniors and little motivation was needed between sets.
“I just told them they were doing everything right with the exception of the ball not staying on the court,” he said. “And they knew that. That’s why I didn’t call any timeouts the first set, or the second or the third because as long as they play together and play hard it has always worked out and I try to stay out of the way.”
Their third game came down to the final points. Northwest took a solid lead early but the Lady Salthawks crept back into the picture. A final kill by Northwest senior Kelsea Brittain sealed their state tournament berth and win over the Salthawks 25-20.
“We talked about how badly we wanted this,” Brittain said. “We deserve this because we have worked so hard over the year. We have played together as a team to this point and we are going to go to state.”
“It means the world to us because we have eight seniors on the team this year that have played together since we were younger,” Northwest senior Megan Putman said. “We went last year but this time around means more. We have become so close as a family and we want to win it for each other.”
Last year they qualified for state but did not win a match. Two years ago they had a team that won the Wichita City League title but was upset in the sub-state. Smith said for that reason, this win was very satisfying.
“State’s going to be a party,” Smith said. “They are going to go up there and let it fly. I’m not worried about a thing. If you are playing against us, we are just going to bring it and not hold anything back.”