Veritas volleyball cruises to state crown
Technically — and with apologies to the runners-up — the championship match of the Kansas Christian Athletic Association state volleyball tournament Saturday was merely an afterthought.
Sure, afterward the victors jumped up and down and shared celebratory hugs and mugged for pictures. But as far as Veritas Christian School’s players were concerned, the title match came earlier in the day, when the Eagles were taken to three sets in the semifinal against the last team to beat them.
The Eagles rallied for a 25-20, 16-25, 15-12 victory over Sunrise Academy in the semis, then made short work of the Wichita Homeschool Warriors, 25-19, 25-19, in the championship match at Free State High for their second state title in three seasons.
“It felt a little off,” Veritas junior Teri Huslig said. “The semifinal was a lot more intense, a lot closer. Both teams were great and really fought, and then we had to gather our energy for the finals.”
Or, as senior Abi Bartlow put it, “It was just surreal.”
Veritas, which finished with a school-best record of 33-3, was all shades of fired up for Sunrise.
Back on Sept. 15, the teams met in Wichita, and Sunrise won in straight sets. It was the only league loss of the season for Veritas.
“We played terrible,” Veritas coach Mike Bartlow said. “We wanted a chance to play them again. We didn’t give them our best shot last time.”
It would prove to be their last loss of the season. They ended the year on a 25-match winning streak, but that was no sure thing Saturday.
They cruised through pool play Friday and Saturday with four straight-set victories, then beat Tyro Christian, 25-18, 25-11, in the quarterfinals Saturday to set up the semifinal meeting with Sunrise.
Veritas won the first set and lost the second, and Mike Bartlow saw a flicker of concern.
“I could see a little fear that they wouldn’t get out of the semifinals,” he said. “But they rallied and played aggressively. Once we got through the semifinals, the pressure was off.”
To hear Abi Bartlow tell it, the Eagles weren’t afraid of Sunrise, nor were they scared they’d not reach the title game.
“I think what we were most afraid of,” she said, “was disappointing everyone who had put so much work into this.”
“I sensed a little bit of fear,” Huslig added. “We lost that momentum, and the game plan fell away a little, but we came back in that third game and dug deep and realized how much we wanted to win. We just decided we weren’t going to let this happen and just fought.”
With Sunrise out of the way, Veritas quickly dispatched the Warriors, and the celebration began.
“There were some tense moments, especially in the semifinals,” Veritas senior Kristen Finger said. “But we spent the whole season getting ready for this, so once we got here, we knew we could win.”
Finger, Huslig and Abi Bartlow were named to the all-tournament team.
Huslig is the only one who will return. Finger, Abi Bartlow, Madi Bennett and Alison Dover make up the senior class that will leave an unprecedented legacy.
“I’m going to miss them so much,” Huslig said, “not just on the court, but at school.”
She’s not alone.
“It all starts with those seniors,” Mike Bartlow said. “We’ve got great chemistry. We might not have the most talented team, but they’re the best team.
“WAHAA (the Warriors) is a really strong program. They’re like a big 2A school. They have 150 kids. We’re fighting with 35 kids. We’ve just got a great group.”
KCAA State Tournament
Friday, Saturday at Free State High
Veritas def. Tyro Christian, 25-13, 25-9.
Veritas def. Colby Heartland Christian, 25-20, 25-18.
Veritas def. Topeka Cair Paravel, 25-19, 25-21.
Veritas def. Flint Hills Christian, 25-18, 25-11.
Veritas def. Tyro Christian, 25-12, 25-7.
Veritas def. Wichita Sunrise Christian, 25-20, 16-25, 15-12.
Veritas def. Wichita Home School Warriors, 25-19, 25-19.
Veritas final record: 33-3.
Veritas tournament statistics: Teri Huslig 20 aces, 46 kills, 1 block, 46 digs, 56 assists; Abi Bartlow 11 aces, 1 block, 20 digs, 13 kills, 7 assists; Lacey Billings 7 aces, 25 digs, 24 kills, 47 assists; Kristen Finger 23 digs, 11 kills, 8 assists; Rebekah Andersson 3.5 blocks, 10 kills; Alison Dover 6 aces, 16 digs, 19 kills; Madi Bennett 3 aces, 34 digs; Allie Swisher 2 aces, 2 digs, 2 assists.