Smith Center VB completes best season in school history

Smith Center Volleyball makes school history in 2020
Olathe-Heritage Christian Academy defeated Smith Center 25-21 25-14 to win the Kansas Class 2A...
Olathe-Heritage Christian Academy defeated Smith Center 25-21 25-14 to win the Kansas Class 2A State Volleyball Championship at United Wireless Arena in Dodge City, October 30, 2020. (Photo: Everett Royer, J Royer | Everett J Royer)
Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 8:04 PM CDT
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DODGE CITY, Kan (Catch It Kansas) – Smith Center graduated seven seniors off last year’s team that qualified for the Class 2A state tournament. SC entered this fall with zero seniors on varsity, a first for longtime coach Nick Linn. Just three players returned with any experience, though one was hurt early this fall.

SC’s lone returners throughout most of 2020 were a pair of juniors: outside hitter Ashlyn Long and Tallon Rentschler, a 6-foot honorable mention all-state middle blocker in ’19.

Rentschler’s younger sister, Tinley, is part of the Lady Red’s highly talented freshmen class. Tallon has long been very close with the group who includes Camryn Hutchinson, Dakota Kattenberg, Gracie Kirchhoff and Baylee Archer.

The team improved and developed chemistry during the summer. That led to the best season in Smith Center school annals, a Class 2A runner-up finish on Friday at United Wireless Arena. Smith Center fell 25-21, 25-14 to Olathe Heritage Christian in the championship.

“The freshmen are just like ‘the group,’” Tallon said. “They are the best of friends. They have always been, so I have been super close with Camryn, Dakota, Gracie, Baylee, all of them, so I just knew how they were together, and kind of knew what to expect, so it really wasn’t hard for me to get used to them all. But it definitely took some getting used to, like the whole team, but I thought we did great on that part of the game.”

Heritage Christian received big performances from freshmen Cy Rae Campbell and Rachel Van Gorp. Senior Katrina Davis had big runs with her float serve that normally cleared the net by a few inches. Campbell delivered eight kills, Van Gorp seven.

Davis, a setter and right side hitter, led Kansas with 102 aces entering state. That was 19 more than any other player, according to MaxPreps. Davis delivered more than 200 aces in the last two falls. She opened the final with a 6-0 run.

“Absolutely force from the back line,” Heritage Christian coach Tom Slaughter said. “She starts serving for a reason, because it typically puts us in a good position right off the bat. I mean, it’s absolutely exciting to see. She can move the ball anywhere around the court. It’s a good height jump float, and it’s just powerful. It has earned us many wins.”

The second set was tied at nine before OHC scored 10 straight, nine on Davis' serve. Davis played for high-level club volleyball in the K.C. area, and her first coach was Van Gorp’s mother. Davis' goal was to serve at Rentschler.

“Playing with Rachel has definitely been fun,” Davis said. “But it’s really the ball contact on the hands, that really makes it float really well, and the toss definitely.”

Smith Center went 36-8, including 3-2 at state. SC fell to OHC in three sets in pool play. Heritage Christian finished 5-0 at state and completed a 30-8 year. Heritage had won titles in ’16-17. Wabaunsee took third, and Hillsboro fourth.

“Everyone maybe underestimated us, but I was super proud of our performance today,” Rentschler said. “I love it. We played so good today, I thought.”

Coach Nick Linn, who cleared 900 career victories this fall, reached his second all-time volleyball final after he led St. Xavier to a second-place showing in ’88.

“They are two really good kids, and two really good players,” Linn said of Long and Rentschler. “People who are good to be around. I am not disappointed. It hurts, but the better team won tonight.”

The longtime SC girls' basketball coach, Linn captured the 2A basketball crown in ’13. In volleyball, Smith Center qualified for state for the fourth straight year. Smith Center now has seven volleyball final four showings under Linn.

This year, SC couldn’t have its usual volleyball summer because of COVID-19 concerns. Instead, the Lady Red built its new-look team in the gym. Rentschler quickly noticed Smith Center would be strong again.

“As we got in the gym June 1, I could just tell that this was going to be a really special team, and it was as we showed today,” Rentschler said. “I wouldn’t trade it for any other team.”

SC defeated Hillsboro (25-18, 25-21) and defending state champion Alma-Wabaunsee (25-23, 25-8) in pool play. The Lady Red fell 25-23, 21-25, 25-21 to Heritage Christian in its final pool play match.

“About two months into the season, we thought we were tough,” Linn said. “We did, because we have a tough schedule, and we do. Others do, too. But we went through some tournaments. We played teams in Nebraska, both really, really good teams, and Clay Center in 4A, Great Bend, and that prepares us for this. The kids know that. They want that.”

Smith Center had never captured a state semifinal win, and beat Hillsboro, 25-22, 25-19. In the semis, Rentschler delivered 16 kills and 13 digs. Long finished with 10 kills and 12 digs.

“Mr. Linn always says that we are as good as our back row, and I could agree with that to the day I graduate, because the whole game kind of hinges on your back row,” Rentschler said.

Sophomore Maile Hrabe delivered 11 digs, and Kirchhoff had seven. Hutchinson, known for her energy, has run the offense at setter.

“I love Camryn, she’s always in practice, in school, no matter where she is at, she is always super excited…,” Rentschler said. “She’s just really there for all of us. She just kind of glues the team together.”

In addition to Davis' serve, Heritage Christian looked to always have two blockers on Rentschler and Long. Rentschler finished with three kills, Long with five.

“They all played well a lot of the time,” Linn said. “And our last match unfortunately was our worst match, but I think Olathe had a lot to do with that.”

Smith Center took a 7-3 lead before Davis flipped the match on her serve. Afterward, SC had some tears but showed a lot of smiles.

“We will feed off this next year hopefully,” Linn said. “We have everybody back. Hopefully everybody stays healthy, and we will try to make a run again at it.”

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