Firebirds, Lions prepared for postseason

Lawrence High junior Brooke Wroten (13) and senior Katelyn Mask (16) jump up for a block as Free State sophomore Mya Gleason sets the ball during the City Showdown dual Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 at LHS.

Hanging on the wall of Free State’s gymnasium are banners for each of the school’s athletic programs, recognizing Sunflower League and regional championships.

Free State’s volleyball team already notched a league title and will look to add one more “2017” mark to the banner with a trip to the Class 6A state tournament for the second straight season.

“That thing is not very full,” said sophomore setter Mya Gleason, pointing at the banner. “It was really good to get that (league title) on there and prove it to ourselves.”

The third-seeded Firebirds (25-14) will travel to Wichita Southeast (13-19) in the first round of sub-state around 3 p.m. today. The winner will face Manhattan (29-9) or Wichita East (14-22) in the championship match afterward.

Free State has several returning players from last year’s state tournament team, but coach Keely Hammontree said there’s an “urgency” heading into the postseason.

“There’s high expectations because we made it last year,” junior Rachel Hickman said. “That’s definitely a big part of it. There’s pressure on us for that.”

Along with the league title, Hickman and Gleason have already rewritten the record books. Hickman, committed to play at Kansas, broke the program’s career kills record (730), which was set by her sister, Naomi, last year.

Hickman has a single-season school record 394 kills this year and 768 in her three-year varsity career.

Gleason, who set the single-season school record in assists last year, topped the career mark last week, accumulating 1,259 in her first two seasons and counting. The career assists record was previously held by Alison Lungstrum in 1997-99.

“She knows how to run her offense,” Hammontree said of Gleason. “She’s a quiet leader.”

With some experience playing in the state tournament, the Firebirds hope to use it to their advantage.

“There is a sense of confidence of like we know we can do it,” Hammontree said.

Lions hosting sub-state matches

Lawrence High’s volleyball players have won their last five matches inside of their home gym, and it will take two more to reach the 6A state tournament.

The Lions (24-11) will open against Shawnee Mission East (11-19) in the first round around 6 tonight. With a victory, Lawrence would play SM Northwest (27-10) or SM North (4-27) for a spot at state.

“It’s a huge bonus,” senior Katelyn Mask said. “We have an advantage. It’s our home gym, so it’s really nice.”

After strong play in the Emporia tournament last weekend, and a home victory over Free State, the Lions believe they are playing their best volleyball at the perfect time of the season.

With a chance to play in front of a home crowd, the Lions are hopeful that it will only help them play even better.

“Our crowd has got to show up,” Lawrence coach Stephanie Scarbrough said. “We’re definitely looking forward to hosting because we have a great environment here. Between our kids and this gym, it’s something special.”