Wild comeback lands Central Plains 1A Volleyball Title
Claflin-Central Plains senior Addison Crites put her hands on her head as she walked off the floor after the Class 1A volleyball tournament and trophy presentation concluded.
Crites soaked in the Oilers’ remarkable 22-25, 25-22, 26-24 state championship victory Saturday versus Rural Vista at United Wireless Arena. In the third set, CP saved three match points and scored the final five points en route to the title. Additionally, Crites thought about the Oilers’ season.
“It’s still kind of hard for me to believe,” Crites said. “Because if you would have told me at the beginning of this season that we would have won state, I would have laughed. I would have thought it would been a joke. It’s just surreal.”
The Oilers were the No. 7 seed at state, opened the year 2-3, and went 34-11. Rural Vista, the top-ranked team in the coaches’ poll most of the fall, and the No. 1 overall seed, finished 42-5. Central Plains was not ranked in the top-10 in the final poll.
The Oilers had won the Class 2A state title in ’15, and took second in ’16. CP had not qualified for state the last two years. Central Plains had just three seniors with Crites, libero Rachel Lamatsch, and senior Rebecca Stratmann, who came back from a knee injury. Crites was a key hitter in the past, but played in the back row for the first time this year, too.
“Especially being the seventh seed,” junior Lexi Oeser said. “And now being No. 1, it’s pretty great.”
Crites enjoyed the championship with her mother, head coach Lisa Crites. The two embraced during the award ceremony.
“It’s tough on Addi,” coach Crites said. “I kind of felt bad sometimes that she had to deal with me as her coach, but we worked through it, and hopefully someday she smiles back, and was like, ‘I am glad that was mom with me.’ It has touched my heart very deeply, and I have been pretty emotional about it.”
Crites delivered a masterful performance in the state title with 19 kills and excellent back row defense. Down 25-23 in the third, Crites had a pair of digs. Rural Vista eventually committed an attack error. Then, RV mishandled a pass for a 24-24 tie.
“You don’t always see such tall girls being able to get to balls, but she just made great choices and used her length to get to balls, sometimes if she was off just a little bit in the back row,” coach Crites said. “I am so, so super proud of our seniors taking leadership roles, guiding the team, it’s just been awesome.”
Then, Oeser fashioned back-to-back kills for the game-winning points. CP had noticed Rural Vista had its setter in the back, and Oeser pushed the first kill to the back left corner.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to get by tipping or rolling on a team as athletic as them,” Oeser said. “So I just I knew I had to go hard in order to get it done, and so we all wanted it really bad, and we all had to know that we had stay aggressive and not get timid.”
Central Plains’ basketball success and volleyball schedule helped prepare the Oilers for state. Crites, Lamatsch and sophomore Kassidy Nixon are key players for CP’s basketball team that has won six consecutive state titles and is currently on the longest winning streak in Kansas basketball history with 111 victories. RV had lost in the first round of state basketball the last three seasons. The Heat qualified for state volleyball for the first time.
“The pressure got to us a little bit,” Rural Vista coach Adam Sobba said. “We just haven’t been here before, and they are so dominant in every sport. I think that really helps them. Their length definitely affected us. I would say that is one of the most athletic teams we have played all year. Usually we are the more athletic team, even though we are small. But their athleticism and size just caused us problems all night.”
After the 2-3 start, Central Plains earned a win against Nickerson, a Class 4A state qualifier. On Sept. 28, CP took losses to Phillipsburg and Smith Center, which went to state in 3A and 2A, respectively. On Oct. 8, Central Plains lost to Ellinwood and Victoria, a pair of league schools. Two nights later, CP fell to Smoky Valley and was down versus Ellsworth.
“Got destroyed by Smoky Valley more or less, and then we playing Ellsworth, and something happened in that first set, and we came back from being down several, several points,” coach Crites said. “And ever since then, our confidence has been better, our teamwork has been better, our chemistry has been really good. Our defense started moving incredibly. I mean, that’s the biggest key. Some of the matches that we were losing early were I think because defense wasn’t making some adjustments on the attacks.”
In pool play, Central Plains cruised through three victories with wins against Chetopa, Cunningham and Clifton-Clyde on Friday. CP won all three matches in two sets, and didn’t allow more than 40 total points in the victories. The Oilers continued the success with a 25-17, 25-12 semifinal win versus Minneola on Saturday. Cunningham eventually defeated Minneola for third place.
In the finals, Rural Vista led 22-20 in the second set when Central Plains decided to run virtually the entire offense through the 5-foot-11 Crites to close the set. She had three consecutive kills for a 24-22 lead. On one point, Rural Vista dug her four times before she delivered a kill.
“That’s the decision the girls made on the court, and I agree with it,” coach Crites said. “I think it was a good decision. Typically I don’t give them a ton of direction. If I see something or if I feel somebody needs a break or somebody is ready to hit, I will say that.”
The third set featured 12 ties between four and 19 points.
“By the time I looked up and it was 18-18, I felt my stomach starting to get quite a bit of butterflies, because I just wanted it so bad,” Addison said.
Rural Vista, though, went on a 5-2 run for its 24-21 lead. Junior Meghan Brockmeier and senior Hannah Riedy delivered kills in the run. Then, Nixon had a kill, and RV made back-to-back miscues. Oeser closed out the incredible comeback.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “Well, it was very unbelievable. It just happened. We flipped a switch, and we just all clicked, and all you could see was smiles.”