It took 31 years for Baldwin HighÃ¢ÂÂs volleyball team to make a return trip to the state tournament, but donÃ¢ÂÂt expect the next drought to last that long.
It wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt surprise Bulldogs coach Jill Brown if the Bulldogs went to Salina again next year.
Ã¢ÂÂNot at all,Ã¢ÂÂ she said. Ã¢ÂÂWe have a good group coming back. Out of 12 players, six are coming back - most of them juniors that played this year.Ã¢ÂÂ
Actually, four of BaldwinÃ¢ÂÂs six starters were juniors, including All-Frontier league selections Emily Brown and Rachel Miles, along with Kari Garrison, who was honorable mention.
Ã¢ÂÂJust going out and making that first step, getting to state, was huge,Ã¢ÂÂ Brown said.
With a 31-10 record, including one stretch where the Bulldogs won 18 straight matches, the Bulldogs were dynamite this season.
That makes it easy to place Brown and Miles on the Journal-WorldÃ¢ÂÂs All-Area volleyball team, and name Brown its coach of the year.
Joining those two standouts are EudoraÃ¢ÂÂs Lauren Kracl, Mill ValleyÃ¢ÂÂs Kelli Wilbur, OttawaÃ¢ÂÂs Jenny Heck, TonganoxieÃ¢ÂÂs Vanessa Wardy and Perry-LecomptonÃ¢ÂÂs Shelly Hendrix as the teamÃ¢ÂÂs defensive specialist.
Emily Brown, Baldwin
A three-time all-area selection, Brown blends her size with impressive agility and smarts on the court. She was named to the all-state tournament team, and has been an All-Frontier league player the last three years. At 6-foot-2, sheÃ¢ÂÂs an imposing setter, dishing 354 assists, but sheÃ¢ÂÂs an even better hitter. She led the league with 411 kills, pretty much forcing Brown to run a 6-2 to take advantage of the juniorÃ¢ÂÂs size.
Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve had some people tell me we should run a 5-1,Ã¢ÂÂ Brown said. Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm not sure IÃ¢ÂÂm willing to give up that hitting spot.Ã¢ÂÂ
Shelly Hendrix, Perry-Lecompton
Hendrix impressed so many coaches with her defensive ability, she snagged a spot as the defensive specialist of the all-area team.
An All-Kaw Valley selection, Hendrix turned sure-fire kills into easy passes for the KawsÃ¢ÂÂ setter, leading the team with 307 digs. And, at just 5-5, the sophomore led the 12-19 Kaws with 206 kills.
Ã¢ÂÂSheÃ¢ÂÂs incredible,Ã¢ÂÂ said Perry-Lecompton coach Nancy Bell, who played at Kansas University.
Ã¢ÂÂShe gets everything up. (Defensively) SheÃ¢ÂÂs better than most of the girls I played against in college.Ã¢ÂÂ
Jenny Heck, Ottawa
An All-Huron league selection, Heck is a first-time all-area player who is solid defensively, with 230 digs, and a 90 percent passer. But the senior also plays bigger than her 5-7 frame might indicate. She tallied 168 kills, but those came far less often than Cyclones coach Jodi Grover would have liked.
Ã¢ÂÂI never took her out of any game,Ã¢ÂÂ Grover said. Ã¢ÂÂSkill wise, sheÃ¢ÂÂs very good, but we just couldnÃ¢ÂÂt get the ball to her enough. When we did get her, other girls turned to their coaches and said Ã¢ÂÂ'I canÃ¢ÂÂt stop her.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂ
Lauren Kracl, Eudora
An easy choice as a three-time all-area player, KraclÃ¢ÂÂs developed into an imposing, devastating hitter. The junior, also a three-time All-Frontier League selection, was the focal point for the 19-14 Cardinals. She racked up 404 kills, five a game. SheÃ¢ÂÂs so big up front, adding 69 blocks, that itÃ¢ÂÂs easy to overlook her solid passing and 230 digs.
Ã¢ÂÂShe was always good, but I think she doubted herself some,Ã¢ÂÂ Cardinals coach Jill Stuttler said. Ã¢ÂÂThis year, she was more aggressive. We could flare her in, flare her out. The only time we didnÃ¢ÂÂt win was when we couldnÃ¢ÂÂt pass the ball. Beyond that, she dominated.Ã¢ÂÂ
Rachel Miles, Baldwin
Miles had a breakout season, in which she snagged All-Frontier League honors along with her first all-area team. A 5-8 junior, she mans the middle, leading the Bulldogs with 186 blocks. SheÃ¢ÂÂs not physically imposing like most middles, but Miles is as effective as anyone taller.
Ã¢ÂÂShe blocks unbelievably well,Ã¢ÂÂ coach Brown said. Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt think we were that good of a blocking team this year, but when she was on the front row, we were pretty strong.Ã¢ÂÂ
Vanessa Wardy, Tonganoxie
A first-time all-area selection, Wardy keyed the ChieftainsÃ¢ÂÂ 25-12 season, which included nearly knocking off eventual state champ Lansing in the sub-state finals. Still, for a team that was 9-24 two years ago, Wardy represents TongieÃ¢ÂÂs turnaround.
An All-Kaw Valley selection, the senior middle led the Chieftains with 223 kills and 104 blocks.
Ã¢ÂÂShe was our go-to player,Ã¢ÂÂ Tonganoxie coach Tiffany Parker said. Ã¢ÂÂIt was one of those things where if she had a good game, we were going to have a good game. And she had a good game more often than not.Ã¢ÂÂ
Kelli Wilbur, Mill Valley
Wilbur, whoÃ¢ÂÂs headed to Central Missouri State next year, was the JaguarsÃ¢ÂÂ most consistent player in their 16-15 season. An All-Kaw Valley selection, itÃ¢ÂÂs her first all-area award. She amassed 222 kills, 43 blocks and 155 digs to go along with 22 aces. In short, she could do it all.
Ã¢ÂÂSheÃ¢ÂÂs an outstanding kid,Ã¢ÂÂ Jaguars coach David Beach said. Ã¢ÂÂSheÃ¢ÂÂs been an impact player for us. SheÃ¢ÂÂs a great hitter and good defensive player.Ã¢ÂÂ