Eyes on the prize: Free State volleyball ready to take another stab at winning state
photo by: Contributed photo
The Free State High volleyball team earned its fourth consecutive trip to the Class 6A state tournament last weekend, and now the Firebirds have their sights on capturing a state championship.
Their quest will begin with the start of pool play at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Salina at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
The Firebirds (25-12) recently won the sub-state title last Saturday by taking down Wichita-Southeast and Garden City at FSHS and did so without losing a single set throughout the two matches played.
Seeded seventh at state, the Firebirds are hoping for a deep run at this year’s state tournament after being eliminated in pool play prior to the semifinals last season.
“They’re relentless,” FSHS coach Jayme Savage said of her 2022 team. “They have faced a brutal schedule this season and we have beaten a number of top-tier teams. We have a family dynamic, and the result speaks for itself.”
Throughout this season, senior middle blocker and outside hitter Sawyer Thomsen has led the way for the Firebirds’ offense while senior setter Rylee Unruh has provided much needed assistance in the middle.
Fellow senior Myla Nover-Estes has at times been dominant on the outside as one of the Firebirds main outside hitters, and the Firebirds will need her to be at her best heading into a tough field at the state tournament.
Senior libero Maddie Powell also has been an integral part in the Firebirds success in 2022, aiding their offensive attack with her passing while also standing out defensively for the veteran team.
As this senior-laden group of players looks to break through this weekend, several Firebirds feel their best volleyball is still in front of them.
“I think that there’s some expectation with this group,” Thomsen said. “We knew we could do it, it was just a matter of whether we had the right attitude and we executed to get there.”
Playing a bigger role than ever before, Nover-Estes said making a run at state with this team, this season, has been on the Firebirds’ minds for years.
“I think our chemistry is really good this year,” Nover-Estes said. “I just think it’s a really special group of girls. I think just being able to play with my friends and coming in here every day and getting to do what I love.”
Free State will play three matches in pool play, starting with the 9:30 a.m. clash with second-seeded Wichita Northwest (33-4). After that, the Firebirds will play No. 3 seed Mill Valley (30-8) at 10:30 a.m. and close out pool play with a showdown with No. 6 Blue Valley North (23-10) at 12:30 p.m.
Top-seeded Washburn Rural (40-1), No. 4 Liberal (27-8), No. 5 Blue Valley (28-9) and No. 8 Blue Valley West (23-13) will compete in the other pool.
The top two teams in each pool will advance to Saturday’s 9 a.m. semifinals, with a berth in the state title match on the line.
“We still have areas of growth and we still have our eyes on the prize,” Savage said. “We feel very good. We are very confident in our ability to compete. Now, it’s just a matter of our preparation and execution.”