HUTCHINSON, Kan.—After a state volleyball championship in five state appearances, the Hutchinson Central Christian Cougars will return to a familiar role as a Class 1A underdog.
The Cougars capped four consecutive years at state with a 41-3 record and third-place Class 1A Division II finish last year. The Cougars beat Weskan, Altoona-Midway and Logan in pool play. They lost to Norwich 16-25, 25-17, 25-22 before beating Logan 25-16, 21-25, 25-8 for third place last year.
First-team all-stater Jamie Patrick has graduated along with fellow seniors Ciara Alderson, Heather Casey and Micaela Ensz.
“I think other teams are hoping to beat us now,” said Central Christian coach Erin Patrick. “But my expectations have not changed.”
Without the dominant spiking of Patrick and Alderson, the Cougars lack height with sophomore Gretchen Nisly the taller player at 5-foot-8.
Returning starters are senior outside hitter Sarah Hagen and senior setter Brittani Green. Other seniors are defensive specialist Elise Taylor, Cynthia Morris and McKenna Wyatt.
“We’ve got some really good players who are inexperienced,” Patrick said. “We have potential to be a very good serving team. But we won’t be the type of hitting team we’ve had in the recent past. We’ve intimidated teams at the net before and we are not going to have that. We won’t scare anybody. But the girls are working hard and there is some skill.
Four of the Cougars’ top eight players will be underclassmen.
“Our experience helps a lot. They’ve seen the tradition and what it takes to be successful,” he said. “They’ve seen the older girls work during the summer. They believe in the system we run because it’s worked at the 1A level. We rely on fundamentals and our defensive system. We always work on serve reception because that’s where your defense starts.”
Setter Brittani Green will set the tone as the Cougars’ most consistent and reliable player.
“We won’t hit as strong in the front row,” Patrick said. “We’re almost a better hitting team from the back row than the front row. You’ve got to survive and try and make the other team make a mistake.”
“At the Class 1A level, we have a chance to be competitive,” Patrick said. “The Class 3A and 4A teams will be hard to beat. Our schedule is tough up front because we play 12 of our first 24 matches against 2A, 3A and 4A teams.”
Patrick hopes to win a percentage of matches during the first 24 matches against bigger-class teams. The team has established realistic goals.
“Our big question is can we improve during our first 24 matches?” he asked. “Our goal is to contend for the top three teams in our league and make the final four of every tournament. Can you get to the championship match of our substate? We have chance to do that, but we’ve got to make a lot of progress.”
Central Christian plays at Inman, Goessel and Canton-Galva Tournaments. A home match is scheduled Sept. 25 against Attica and Stafford.