Olathe Banaka Okwuone could not hold back her tears Saturday as her volleyball career at Free State High ended when the Firebirds lost to Olathe Northwest, 2-1, in the Class 6A sub-state tournament at Olathe South.
Free State took Olathe Northwest to a third game, but, much like the last time the teams met two weeks ago, the Ravens prevailed.
The Firebirds lost the first game of the match, 26-24, but rebounded to win the second game, 25-19. Free State had numerous chances to move on to state in a thrilling third game, but could not finish.
The Firebirds and Ravens traded points early in the game, but a nine-point run by Olathe Northwest put Free State behind, 20-14. The Firebirds rallied with a six-point run of their own to tie the game at 20, but Olathe Northwest rattled off three straight points, a deficit that was too much for Free State to overcome. The Firebirds ultimately lost the match, 25-23.
"We knew that it was now or never for us when we tied the game at 20," Okwuone said. "We had some mental breakdown and bad communication, and we just couldn't finish."
The tournament didn't go any better for Lawrence High. The Lions lost, 2-0, to Olathe South, the team they beat last year in the same tournament to qualify for state.
LHS coach Molly LaMere said the Falcons were playing for revenge Saturday.
"They are one of the best teams in the state, just like last year, and I think they thought last year we came in and stole it from them," LaMere said. "They were just the better team tonight."
Both city teams easily won their first matches. LHS defeated Topeka, 2-0, while Free State beat Olathe East, 2-0.
The Firebirds finished 20-16 on the season. Free State coach Nancy Hopkins said she was disappointed, but proud of her team's season.
"They didn't want this to be the last game of the season," Hopkins said. "We made the decision going into the game that we were going to leave it all on the court. That meant jumping a little higher, diving a little farther and giving it all we had. I think that we did that tonight."
The Lions, who lost their second game to Olathe South by a 27-25 score, felt the same way.
"I thought we played our best volleyball of the season," senior Sydney Wilson said.
"We came out to play tonight, we just fell two points short."
Free State will graduate five seniors: Okwuone, Sarah Heider, Julie Council, Aubrey Morris and Kelly Jewell. However, the Firebirds return four juniors, including blocker Kristen Karlin.
Karlin said she was excited about next year despite losing all of the seniors.
"We will be a great team," Karlin said.
LHS will lose four seniors, but will return the bulk of its contributors.