When Manhattan drew Junction City as its first-round opponent at sub-state earlier this week, head coach Lisa Kinderknecht knew her team would be in for a tough test.
Not only had the Blue Jays played the Indians much better than in years past, they also had the luxury of hosting the sub-state tournament Saturday.
The familiarity and rivalry made things difficult for the Indians, who fell to sixth-seeded Junction City in the first round, 25-19, 17-25, 25-16, to end their season.
“Hats off to them,” Kinderknecht said. “They took advantage of home-court, and they had a mission and got it done. Junction City is a great volleyball team.
“I’m really proud of our girls — they’ve had a great season. It’s never easy to end on the note we ended on, but there’s no regrets for them. They worked hard and in my opinion, we got better throughout the season.”
Kinderknecht said her team knew how to prepare for the Blue Jays, but in a game that’s fueled by momentum, beating them was going to be a tall task.
“Preparing for them, there was a lot of stuff we already knew,” she said. “I would hope that would help, but they beat us for the first time this year. We were 3-1 against them this year coming in and they pushed us last year, so it’s not a surprise. It’s a rivalry and they’re a good team.”
The Indians came out slow in the first set, getting down by five points, but managed to tie the match at 17-all. Junction City took over from there, however, and took the first set.
In the second, it was all Manhattan.
“They had a great crowd, and a lot of motivation,” she said. “But our girls came back and played really well in the second set and just didn’t let them back in it. We would have hoped that the momentum for the third set would have been in our court, and it was in some respects.”
In the third, Manhattan started with the momentum, but the Blue Jays were not going to be denied — not in the midst of a feel-good season and the chance to advance to state on their home floor.
Junction City stepped up its game defensively in the third set, using a solid block and several great digs to wear down the Indians. An early four-point run helped them establish a lead they would not relinquish.
“They didn’t let many balls hit the floor in the third set,” she said. “They dug up everything. It wore us down a little bit in the fact that we started being a little more timid with our swings.”
Kayla Shields led with nine kills on the night, with Jessie Kujawa adding five. Aubrey Jung had 18 assists and seven digs in the match, with Allie Massanet adding 15 digs. Colbi Brooks and Shields each added six digs as well. Brooks and Maddie Winkler each had two aces.
After downing Manhattan, the Blue Jays beat seventh-seeded Topeka High, 25-6, 25-14, to earn a berth in the state tournament.
“I wish them the best of luck next week,” she said. “It’s an exciting thing to be a part of the state tournament, and I’m sure they’ll represent this sub-state and the Centennial League well.”
Also advancing from the Junction City sub-state was top-seeded Washburn Rural, who breezed through its bracket with straight-set wins over Wichita Southeast and Wichita Heights.
“I’m proud of the girls — they left it all on the floor and played really hard,” she said. “But unfortunately, it was just Junction City’s night.”