State champs: LHS volleyball claims first state title since 1995
As soon as Michaela Cordova’s kill ricocheted off a Blue Valley player, the celebration ensued.
Members of the bench rushed to the center of the court to create a dogpile with the rest of the Lawrence High volleyball team. Cordova’s decisive blow finished off a three-set win over Blue Valley, which allowed LHS to clinch the 6A state title Saturday afternoon at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina.
“I wasn’t expecting to go all the way down,” Cordova said. “I ended up getting dogpiled on the ground. I was just laying there like, ‘Oh my gosh, we just did it.'”
It marked the program’s first state title since 1995, snapping a drought of 23 years, which was well before any of the current players were even born.
However, it was the 16th volleyball title in team history.
“We have really worked for this moment for four years,” senior Laura Willoughby said. “We are going to start a new banner, because we ran out of room on the other one.”
Lawrence head coach LHS Stephanie Scarbrough, who was actually a player during the team’s last state title, admitted how special it was to finally add to the banner at LHS.
“It feels so good,” Scarbrough. “When (the seniors) came in their freshman year, this was their goal the whole time. For them to get it, and work so hard for it, it feels pretty special.”
But the Lions (38-2) have been prepared for this moment for quite some time.
Last year’s trip to the state tournament, the program’s first since 2009, was an important lesson after the team went 1-2 and was eliminated in pool play. It gave the Lions plenty of motivation heading into the 2018 campaign.
“We practice so hard that we even practice dogpiling, so we know how to do it,” senior Cortney Hanna said. “I knew from the beginning of the season that we could make it to state. Once we knocked off a couple ranked opponents, I think it really started to set in that we could do this.”
For much of the season, LHS has overwhelmed its opponents en route to earning the top seed in Class 6A. In fact, Lawrence dropped just nine of its 90 total sets on the year.
The semifinals match with Washburn Rural exemplified just that. The Lions trailed only once, which was at 1-0, during their 25-18 victory over the Junior Blues in the first set. LHS responded with a 25-21 victory in the second set, including a crucial stretch of six unanswered points to break a 10-10 tie.
Senior Baylee Unruh paced the squad with 12 kills against Washburn Rural, while senior Abby Monroe added eight. Willoughby tallied 27 assists and Cordova registered 12 digs to help LHS advance to the state championship.
“This is what we have worked for,” Willoughby said. “All the sprints we did, all the stairs we did. It was all for this.”
The championship match was a different story, however.
Lawrence trailed for the duration of the opening set, dropping a 25-19 decision to Blue Valley. The Lions responded with a 25-14 victory in the second set, in which seniors Sammy Williams and Brooke Wroten were credited with crucial kills.
At one point, Hanna helped stretch the lead to double digits by filling in at server for the Lions.
“We were a little anxious because the game had such high stakes,” Williams said. “The second and third set, we really settled in and played our game.”
The momentum remained in Lawrence’s favor, as the team claimed a 25-14 victory in the third set. It marked just the fifth time that LHS needed the third set to claim a win during a three-set match this season.
Monroe led the way with 12 kills against Blue Valley, while Unruh added seven and Williams finished with four. Senior Lauren Maceli tallied a team-high 21 digs, while senior Hannah Stewart made multiple plays to stave off the Tigers. Willoughby also notched 27 assists in the championship match.
As a result, the senior class was able to win its final match together and bring back some hardware to a program that has plenty.
“It is cool to know that we are bringing back a tradition,” Unruh said. “We worked really hard this season, and we showed up this tournament by going undefeated. Every team here is an amazing team, so it is just great to know we came out on top.”