While Tuesday night’s triangular wasn’t the last chance the Manhattan High volleyball team had to play at home in front of parents and fans, the tears flowed anyway.
On senior night, the Indians defeated Junction City 25-15, 25-11, before a two-set win against Wamego 25-19, 25-22 to move to 26-11 on the year, as teams across the state prepare for sub-state this weekend.
Manhattan is set to host its sub-state tournament this weekend, so fans of the Indians can still catch the volleyball team in action on Saturday.
On Tuesday night, Manhattan’s six seniors set aside what was otherwise an emotional occasion and focused on volleyball. The win against Junction City came easy, but the match with Wamego was far more competitive.
Against the Blue Jays, Manhattan was led by Kaci Cink with nine kills, with Jessie Kujawa adding eight and Kelsey Schroll with four. Aubrey Jung had 23 assists and Matty Mahan led with six digs, while Madi Fief had five. Lauren Goralczyk had two aces.
“I was proud of them against Junction, because there were a couple times we started to let them back in and they put a halt to it,” Manhattan coach Lisa Kinderknecht said. “We didn’t allow any big runs.”
After Wamego and Junction City played each other, there was a break in the action while each senior was introduced in a senior-night ceremony.
“They’re really special to me because they were freshmen when I started this job,” Kinderknecht said. “Three of them actually played some varsity ball for me their freshmen year. So they’ve been around for a while.
“It’s been fun and I’ll miss them. They’re the ones I know. They’re going to be a tough group to replace, and they’ve stayed really positive and supported each other.”
Following the ceremony and a warm-up period, Manhattan faced off against the Red Raiders, which brought their own contention of fans. Paired with the parents and the pep band, it made for quite an environment.
“It was tough for Wamego to play in this atmosphere, but we’re not used to this atmosphere either,” Kinderknecht said. “We’re so grateful to the pep club band, and the student section and the parents — it was just awesome.”
In the first set against Wamego, Manhattan went back and forth with the Red Raiders before winning eight of nine points to turn a one-point deficit into a 23-17 lead.
In the second set, Wamego hung around all the way until the end. The Red Raiders tied the score at 20-20, but Manhattan took four of the next five points to build a lead. Wamego had a chance trailing 24-22, but missed the serve to drop the match.
“Wamego’s a really good team and I was really pleased to get out in two sets,” Kinderknecht said. “It would have been tough to play them a third.”
With the regular season now over, Manhattan can turn its attention to Saturday’s sub-state tournament.
Even with the sweep on senior night, the Indians are likely to earn the No. 2 seed at sub-state, likely pitting them against No. 3-seed Washburn Rural with a state berth on the line. The Indians have defeated Rural twice this season.
“It’s ours to take advantage of,” Kinderknecht said. “We have to play every point out and not take anything for granted. Even though we’ve beaten Rural twice this year, they’re mentally a tough program. They’re used to being at state, and although this is a different group of girls, they want to carry on the tradition the same way.”
Wichita East finished just a game ahead of Manhattan to take the top seed.
The Manhattan sub-state will begin at 1 p.m. with the first side of the bracket. Since Manhattan is the host team, its portion of the bracket will start at 5 p.m. as the schedule is dictated by travel distance.
The other teams participating in the regional are Junction City, Derby, Lawrence Free State, Topeka High and Wichita Southeast.
“We feel fortunate to be hosting it and we can create our own destiny,” Kinderknecht said. “I’m hoping those seniors will leave a legacy. It would be fun — we don’t want to not go back to state, that’s for sure.”