Just one point away from a trip to state, Manhattan High outside hitter Kaci Cink got two tries to send her team to victory in Saturday’s sub-state final.
The first was dug up by the Washburn Rural defense, but the second ended the match with authority, sending Manhattan back to next weekend’s state tournament after a one year hiatus.
“The first one they got up, so the second time I was determined to get it down,” Cink said of her final kill. “I just wanted it so bad.”
Facing a familiar foe in the 6A defending-champion Junior Blues, Manhattan needed three sets, but ultimately got the end result it wanted, winning 24-26, 25-14, 25-23.
“I can’t imagine we’ll have more of a gut-check than we did tonight at state, even though there will be really good teams there,” Kinderknecht said. “There was nobody better to put that ball down in the end. Kaci did a wonderful job.”
After a close opening set that got away from the Indians and a dominant second set by Manhattan, the match went to a third.
While Manhattan led most of the third set, it couldn’t quite shake Rural. The Indians led 13-6 and looked to be running away with the set like they did in the second, but the Junior Blues rattled off five straight points to make it 13-12 and hung with them the rest of the way.
Manhattan had a 22-20 lead, but Rural got three of the next four points to make it 23-23. The Indians got the next two points, finishing off the match Cink’s kill to earn the trip to state.
“The seniors — I’m really happy for them,” Kinderknecht said. “I couldn’t want any more for this group of girls. They’ve played together a long time. And the younger girls really stepped it up tonight, too.”
Manhattan was led by Jessie Kujawa and Kelsey Schroll with 14 kills apiece in the Rural match. Cink and Lauren Goralczyk each had nine kills. Setter Aubrey Jung had 43 assists against the Junior Blues, while also logging 13 digs. Madi Fief and Savannah Roberts each had 11 digs, with Kenzie Miller adding 10.
Schroll had three solo blocks and two assists, with Kujawa adding two solos and two assists.
“The fact we had to play them a third time — that’s a tough thing to do,” Kinderknecht said. “We were fortunate to have a great crowd and great support, and I think that definitely helped.”
Manhattan beat Rural for the third time this year, but the final time was the hardest, as both teams had plenty of film on the other.
“I told them they may have to try and place balls someplace else,” Kinderknecht said. “He’s got film on us and they’re going to cover those honey-holes.
“I can’t give enough kudos to our back row. Defensively and just have serve-receive, when you have that many kills and that many assists, somebody’s passing the ball pretty darn well.”
Earlier in the evening, Manhattan defeated Topeka High 25-13, 25-17, to get to the final against Rural, which beat Junction City 25-11, 25-8.
Wichita East won the other sub-state bracket, defeating Derby 25-18, 25-22, to also advance to state.
Against Topeka High, Kujawa led with 13 kills, with Schroll adding six. Jung finished with 23 assists, while Mahan had 10 digs and Fief had six.
“Our back row was phenomenal,” Kinderknecht said. “Our back row played as well as they’ve played all year long. Everybody that stepped in played well.”
With sub-state out of the way, the team can start preparing for its toughest test of the year at state next weekend. Goralczyk said the team isn’t nervous.
“I can’t wait for next week,” she said. “I’m confident - I think we’ll do really well.”
Kinderknecht wasn’t sure where her team would land seed-wise at state, but knows the teams they face will be tough.
“There’s going to be a lot of teams with double-digit losses,” Kinderknecht said. “Some of the teams ranked in the top three in the state have eight or nine losses. It’ll be a challenge, for sure.”