LHS volleyball looking to future after falling in state tournament

Lawrence High junior Hannah Stewart serves up a point in front of the LHS student section during the Lions' three-set loss to Washburn Rural at the Class 6A state volleyball tournament on Friday at the Kansas Expocentre.

? As the third set between Garden City and Washburn Rural came to a close, no spectators had more of a vested interest than the Lawrence High volleyball team.

Having dropped its first two matches in the Class 6A state tournament to Washburn and Blue Valley West, the Lions stood along the endline of the court at Kansas Expocentre, living vicariously through the Buffaloes, needing them to win to have their third and final match — for lack of a better term — matter.

It wasn’t in the cards. As Washburn took the final set, cheers of elation from the team and its supporters overtook the scene. The smiles faded off the faces of several LHS players. Coach Stephanie Scarbrough clapped her hands together quietly three times as she began to walk toward the bench, telling the players to huddle around before taking the floor.

“We talked (about) coming out and having pride,” junior Baylee Unruh said. “Showing that we deserved to be here and that we’ll be back next year.”

They certainly came out of that huddle with an extra burst.

The team took its place on the court, except for junior Brooke Wroten, who ran all the way to the stands to high-five the remaining LHS supporters in the front row.

Wroten set the tone for the match, recording a couple emphatic kills from the jump. Libero Lauren Maceli was active diving all over the court, while Laura Willoughby set her teammates up over and over, hearing a “fear the goggles” chant from the crowd in appreciation.

“It was awesome,” Wroten said of the crowd. “I can’t believe they stayed this whole time. I’m just so glad they came and supported us.”

The Lions gave them plenty to cheer for, too.

LHS took the first set of its finale 25-19. The team started to show some fatigue in the second but found a second wind in the third, winning 25-23.

Like the pre-match gathering, the post-match huddle was an emotional one, but it came with an overwhelming theme of optimism for a strong returning junior class.

“Coach (Scarbrough) was proud of us that we came back with a win to end the season,” Unruh said. “And that we have one under our belt for next year when we come back so we don’t have jitters.”

Win or not, the Lions actually played fairly well against their first two opponents, too.

Against Washburn Rural, they sparked a comeback and won the first set, 25-23, thanks to a pair of big performances from Michaela Cordova (7 kills in the match) and Sammy Williams (6 kills, 2 blocks), the latter of whom smashed the set-winning kill off an assist from Laurel Bird.

In similar fashion, the Lions took the first set from Blue Valley West, winning behind a defensive performance that saw Cordova, Williams and Abby Monroe combine for five blocks.

But after the fantastic firsts came a less-than-stellar second.

“We just kind of like shut down a little bit,” Wroten said.

The Lions never really had control of the match against Washburn Rural again, falling 23-25, 25-19, 25-18. They jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the second set against Blue Valley West, but the Jaguars answered with a 14-3 run to take all the momentum and escape with the win, leaving the Lions on the doorstep of elimination.

For that, even though they left the tournament before its final day, the Lions had their eyes on the future.

Asked what the tournament meant to the team, Wroten needed only 16 words to sum it all up.

“I think we can learn from it now,” Wroten said, “and then come back next year even stronger.”