All it took to spark Free State High’s volleyball team against Olathe South on Tuesday was a block from junior Rachel Hickman and senior Grace Raney.
The Firebirds are known for their potent offense, but they spend time in practice each day trying to improve their block.
During the second set, Hickman and Raney denied a spike from Olathe South’s middle blocker, then jumped up in the air in celebration. Afterward, the Firebirds won 13 of the next 15 points to end their home opener in style with a 25-16, 25-11 victory at FSHS.
“It just kind of gave us the momentum to keep playing hard,” Raney said. “It clicked.”
Following the block, everything started to fall for Free State’s offense with a pair of kills from Raney and Hickman. Even senior libero Erin Cushing bumped the ball over the net and it landed for a kill in between several defenders.
“That was actually really fun,” coach Keely Hammontree said. “I’ve never seen Grace hit so well. I wasn’t sure if it was the energy or what, but she was just on fire there at the end.”
Senior setter Haley Wolcott dished seven assists to five different hitters in the second set: Hickman, Raney, senior Cameryn Thomas, sophomore Kaitlyn Hamilton and sophomore Haley Hippe.
The Firebirds (6-5) won the final 10 points of the match, finishing with a kill from the left-handed Hickman, a Kansas commit.
“We really try to connect with the hitters, so it was really fun,” said Wolcott, who had 13 total assists in the match. “Once you feel it happen, it’s amazing. Definitely when they get that kill, I was just so excited for them.”
During the first set against the Falcons (1-7), Hickman and Thomas highlighted the Firebirds’ offense with a combined 13 kills, helped by setters Wolcott and sophomore Mya Gleason (nine assists). Hamilton added another four kills in the set, which saw Free State pull away with a string of seven straight points.
The Firebirds, who use a different defense than they did last year, picked up strong passes from defensive specialists Cushing and senior Murphy O’Malley to help fuel the team’s offense.
“We’re starting to finally click and gel in practice at that pace and then showing it against opponents,” Hammontree said.
The Firebirds, who played with a primarily senior lineup, fed off of the energy of their crowd, which featured plenty of students in the first few rows of the stands.
“It’s so much fun,” Wolcott said. “It’s definitely the moment you’ve been waiting for. All your hard work just builds up to that moment.”
Free State will play in a triangular at 5 p.m. today in Emporia.