Nothing in sports is a certainty. But over the last few years, it has seemed as if Hillsboro hoisting the big volleyball trophy at the end of the season is a sure thing. Mark your calendars. The Trojans will be winning two matches on the final Saturday of the season. Hillsboro has captured three state titles in the last three years across two different classifications.
But from head coach Sandy Arnold on down to the players on the team, it is clear that championship trophies are not just given away, and streaks do not make the road any easier.
“The reward for a job well done is more hard work,” said Arnold. “So we know that nothing is going to be handed to us. That would be dumb to think that way. We know we are going to have to work our tail off, but we’ve talked about that every year.”
Year round athletic accomplishment is nothing new for the Hillsboro girls. Along with volleyball in the fall, elite-level success on the basketball court in the winter and on the softball diamond in the spring comes with the territory, and is expected of the Trojans. And in the age of specialization, the combination of sports and the skillsets that come with them has helped the athletes to become stronger in all areas.
That well roundedness is one of the many factors that has led to the dream streak for the Hillsboro volleyball team. The ability of the coaches throughout the athletic department to work together and share different areas of athletic expertise hasn’t hurt the Trojans either.
“I want them to play everything,” said Arnold. “Nobody wants them to specialize. We all want them to play. I think it just makes them athletic. The things they do in basketball are going to help them, whether they play volleyball, or softball, or track. And the same with track, it’s going to help you with anything else you do. The basketball coach and I, we work together. We’ve worked together the last several years to get our kids to be athletic, and not to be a volleyball player or not just to be a basketball player.”
As the titles stack up, and the target on the back swells, there is one very important variable that keeps the Trojans from resting on past success, and clearly separates the teams from year to year. In each of the last three Hillsboro state championship seasons, the Trojans have used a different senior setter.
While the hitters get the majority of the attention with displays of spectacular power and athleticism, the setter is an unsung player that makes the offense work by reading the defense and putting the ball where it needs to be.
It is a position no team wants to be missing going into a season with championship aspirations. But as it has worked out, Arnold has found a way to make the turnover into a positive.
“It gave every senior, every setter, a lot more ownership of that team,” said Arnold. “It’s not that I wouldn’t ever do a junior setter, or a younger setter. It’s just kind of the way it’s worked out. They have kind of worked their way through the system and now I feel like it’s kind of their time to shine.”
With the importance of the setter to the team’s success, Arnold takes every setter across the different high school levels and runs drills with them together, taking a hands on approach to building depth across the different classes.
In the quest for a fourth straight title, Alex Ratzlaff will be returning for a third varsity season as an outside hitter. She will be joined by classmate Shannon Heiser, along with Emily Jost and Lakyn Johnson to give the Trojans four scorers with varsity experience at the tip of the offensive spear.
This fall, Arnold will have two options as the next round of senior setters to distribute the ball amongst the prolific power at the net. Julie Sinclair and Shelley Arnold will take the reins as the next rounds in the revolver.
Just as important is the back row that will be tasked with keeping opponents off the scoreboard as well as starting the offense with clean passing. Hillsboro will have a couple of seniors that can step up to fill that void in Bradli Nowak and Tara Proffitt.
With volleyball success piling up, it might be easy for the Trojans to walk into a gym with cockiness, an air of entitlement that the queens have arrived and all bow in the presence. But Hillsboro approaches matches with a confidence stemming from preparation, not arrogance based on past accomplishment.
A schedule full of ferocious competition keeps the Trojans on their toes and forces them to compete at a high level.
“Confidence comes from knowing you are prepared,” said Arnold. “If the other team happens to be better after all your preparation, then what else could you have done? But if you go in just saying yeah I’ll get it without working at it, then you are going to lose.”
Nowhere in the season is the minefield more dangerous for the falsely entitled than sub-state. There is no tomorrow for those who lose matches. It ratchets up the pressure, and the finality of the situation keeps the Trojans focused, and grounded.
“Sub-state is the killer,” said Arnold. “I mean, it’s one and done. And that’s the only tournament like that you play all year that’s like that. So that one is the killer if you ask me. Motivation-wise, we work up more for sub-state than we do for state.”
Time will tell if the Trojans are ready for another run through the gauntlet of sub-state on the way back to the state tournament. But Hillsboro will be ready for a new focus on the same mission.
“We know that those three titles haven’t helped us any as far as making it easy for us,” said Arnold. “We are going to have to come out with bells on and really crank it up.”