Five points from winning all its matches at a quadrangular volleyball meet Thursday night in its home gymnasium, Free State High was caught from behind late in the final match of the night and had to settle for winning two out of three.
The Firebirds (13-12) defeated Leavenworth, 27-25, 25-14, and then took care of Shawnee Mission West, 25-19, 25-16.
The final match of the night was the most entertaining one, but didn’t go Free State’s way. Shawnee Heights defeated the Firebirds, 20-25, 25-22, 27-25.
The loss didn’t change coach Nancy Hopkins’ feeling about her team.
“We’ve improved a ton from the beginning of the season,” Hopkins said. “Everybody obviously hopes they peak at sub-state time so they can make it to the state tournament. We started out down at the beginning because we lost so many players from last year, but we’re doing pretty darn good. We beat some really tough opponents, and we play a pretty tough schedule, which I prefer because it just makes them better.”
Free State’s pieces fit together nicely for most of the night. When seniors Alex Mollohan, Chantay Caron, Marissa Thibodo and junior Meaghan Holmes were at the net, they made points difficult to come by for the opposition.
“We rely on our blockers a lot,” Hopkins said. “We score almost as many points on blocks as we do kills.”
Caron fired up teammates with her powerful hits, and Mollohan’s exceptional serving ability wowed the crowd.
During one stretch against Shawnee Mission West, Mollohan scored five consecutive aces with a serve that has an action similar to that of a power pitcher’s split-fingered fastball. It comes in hard and at the last instant dives.
“Alex has been the person we want back there serving when we need points,” Hopkins said. “For the most part, she gets them in and when she does, they’re very hard to return.”
Hollohon consistently contributed, regardless of where she was stationed.
“She had a really good night,” Caron said of her teammate. “She hustles all the time. She never gives up, even if she is tired.”
Free State improved its record to 13-12, a nice sign of how much the team has improved, considering it started the season 2-6.
Caron, who made an oral commitment to play basketball at Kansas State, is having so much fun she said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of pursuing volleyball, instead of basketball, in college. She said Missouri State has offered her a volleyball scholarship.
“I’ve gone back and forth a lot,” Caron said. “I’m just kind of in the middle, just sitting on what I want to do.”
Asked what she likes most about playing volleyball, Caron answered with a voice and expression more gentle than the words.
“I really like to pound the ball and hit people in the face,” Caron said. “And I like to block. I love how all my teammates get excited after every good play. It’s fun to watch everybody.”
Caron and teammates fell just short of a third victory celebration.
“Of all the times that was the time we kind of broke down and got nervous,” Caron said of late in the third game against Shawnee Heights. “But that’s OK. Someone had to win, someone had to lose. We played really well against them.”