Joan Wells, longtime Lawrence High volleyball coach, has noticed a pattern in the Lions' opponents.
``Either teams are intimidated and don't play well at all,'' Wells observed, ``or they play their best match ever. Most of the good teams play better against us.''
That the Lions could intimidate a team is understandable. After all, in 19 years under Wells, they've won 10 state titles. Their 19-year record is 550-65, and they've made the state finals 16 of the last 17 seasons.
Three of those teams went undefeated, including last year's state champions who finished 40-0 and downed Manhattan in the title match.
That squad, Wells noted, was one the finest in LHS history. And it's a team that graduated only three seniors although those three were pretty important.
THE LIONS return five letter winners seniors Heather Flachsbarth, Erin McElwain, Gwen Mullens and Jennifer Nelson, and junior Megan Kampschroeder.
``We lost three seniors, but three very important seniors,'' Wells said, referring to Kristin Kampschroeder, Leslie Catlin and Lynn Stoner. ``We've got some big shoes to fill.''
But Wells isn't complaining.
``We've got to feel confident,'' she conceded, ``with five letter winners returning.''
The Lions open their season at home Thursday against Topeka High, Topeka West and Topeka Seaman. The JV starts at home tonight against Manhattan, Olathe North and Shawnee Mission West.
The traditionally strong Lawrence Tournament is set for Sept. 29, and the state tournament will be Oct. 27 at LHS.
``I HOPE WE'RE playing in it,'' Wells said about the state meet. But that seems a reasonably safe bet, considering the Lions have reached the state tournament 18 consecutive years.
``We're looking forward to hosting it,'' the coach said. ``We're going to do everything we can to be there. I think it always gives you a little advantage to be at home.''
The Lions do, however, find themselves in a somewhat unusual situation. Wells explains, ``All five of our hitters are letter winners. All of our setters are new.
``That's going to make a difference,'' she said. ``I wouldn't call it a weakness, but it's going to take awhile for them to get some confidence at the varsity level.''
But Wells noted that she had confidence in those setters, seniors Kelli Boehringer and Christina McClure and junior Casse Jones.
``The setters touch the ball more than anybody,'' Wells pointed out. ``They're the playmakers. They never get enough credit. If you get a good set, it's real easy to put it down.
``IT'S UNUSUAL to have all the hitters returning and no setters returning. But Casse got some playing experience last year, and she's improving a lot. She just needs to play.''
A rivalry, it seems, is developing between Lawrence and Manhattan. The two teams have met in the state finals three of the past four years, with Lawrence winning last year and Manhattan winning in 1986 and '87.
``Right now, I think Manhattan might be our biggest rival,'' Wells said. ``Manhattan will be good.''
Who knows? Maybe the two teams will square off again in the state finals at LHS.
``It's going to depend on our senior leadership,'' Wells said, ``and how we play together as a team.''