Topeka For the casual fan who might wander into the Kansas Expocentre today for the Class 6A state volleyball tournament's pool play, all eyes will be on the hometown favorite, Washburn Rural.
But two teams that will have no fear of facing the Junior Blues (35-3) will be Lawrence High and Free State, two squads that made noise at last weekend's sub-states.
The Firebirds and Lions were the third and fourth-seeded teams last weekend at LHS. Lawrence knocked off top-seeded Olathe South, while Free State axed Olathe East to earn berths to state, which gets under way at 8:30 this morning. Two teams that weren't even supposed to escape sub-states, they will enter today's action with nothing to lose.
"I think we kind of always have that attitude," Free State coach Nancy Hopkins said. "We're going into it also with the attitude that every team there is tough. Obviously, everyone had to win their sub-state to get there. We just want to take games one at a time and not look ahead to something else."
If there's anything the Lions and Firebirds might be looking ahead to, it would be their head-to-head meeting at 1:30 p.m.
With stiff competition throughout the tournament, Hopkins is making sure her team is not focusing on its final match of the day. She also is trying to play down the importance of going up against a crosstown team.
"I always try to talk to them that I hate the word 'rivals,'" Hopkins said. "We're both at the state tournament and trying to win. But the team I'd rather see win if it can't be us is Lawrence High."
Either way, Hopkins knows there will be extra motivation for her girls when they do take the floor against the Lions. But she also stresses that her team's focus has been solid all season, and that shouldn't change today.
"The girls have a tendency to be pretty well focused on our opponent at the time," she said. "But I know they'll get pretty pumped for Lawrence High when it's time to play them."