Lawrence High’s volleyball players weren’t looking for a change of scenery Saturday at the Joan Wells Invitational, but when the setting switched, they didn’t let it get them down.
While three other teams tried in vain to beat out champion Blue Valley for the tournament title in the main gymnasium, the Lions headed across the parking lot to play in the consolation bracket. Though the west gymnasium, most often used for sub-varsity games and events, lacked the atmosphere and main-attraction feel the Lions hoped for, they finished the tournament with victories over Shawnee Mission East and Maize to win the silver bracket and place fifth overall.
“Clearly we wanted to be in the gold bracket,” LHS coach Stephanie Magnuson said after her team went 3-2 on the day. “Since we ended up in the silver, we needed to prove to ourselves we actually deserved to be in the gold.”
The Lions (10-13) felt as if their 25-9, 27-25 sweep of SME and 24-26, 25-22, 25-18 victory over Maize (ranked No. 7 in Class 6A by the Kansas Volleyball Association) were a nice remedy to their disappointment over losing two of three matches in pool play.
LHS also beat Maize, 25-17, 26-24, in the morning, but fell to No. 4 Blue Valley, 25-7, 25-14, and Shawnee Mission Northwest, 25-20, 11-25, 25-16. Senior Caitlin Broadwell said playing away from the spotlight, in the west gym, challenged the Lions’ resolve.
“It just sucks all the energy out,” Broadwell said of the setup, which places fans up in the balcony, instead of in court-side bleachers.
Magnuson noticed a lack of pep among the Lions in their first-game loss to Maize in the fifth-place match, and let them know they better create some fire in a hurry after LHS blew a 24-21 lead.
The players responded, Broadwell added, by feeding off each other: “Getting a good kill or a really good dig just gets everyone else around you playing better, too.”
It took a little help from every LHS player to salvage a victory over Maize, which had just stolen away momentum. In the second game, sophomore Caroline Dykes started the recovery with a kill. Next, senior Sami Buffalomeat served up an ace. Broadwell came up with a block and a kill. Then junior Cienna Sorell scored with a spike.
The trend continued through the rest of the match. Senior Jessica Lemus chased after every shot that came in her vicinity. Sophomores Kyleigh Severa and Marlee Bird gave their teammates the passes and sets they needed to score. Senior Kristen Gile scored above the net. Senior Makayla Wagner hopped off the bench late in the third and decisive game to put away a shot.
By the time Lawrence wrapped up fifth place, Buffalomeat had nearly lost her voice from all the talking and celebratory screams. She said the Lions were pleased with the way they handled themselves after giving Maize the first game.
“I think we just flowed more together,” the senior said. “Sometimes (earlier) we were just yelling at each other, and (later) we started to play as a team, and I think that really helps.”
Magnuson said the Lions started believing in themselves and playing more assertively, which showed up defensively, too, particularly in the back with Lemus and sub Marly Carmona.
“That was where we had been lacking,” the coach said. “With their support and the base of their defense, we were able to build on that.”
LHS plays host to SME and Olathe North on Thursday.