Despite fielding a talented team last season, Manhattan High volleyball coach Lisa Kinderknecht knew something was missing.
Last year, the Indians saw their season end abruptly with an upset loss to Junction City at sub-state. That loss exemplified what was lacking in a season full of ups and downs. Kinderknect is hoping this year’s group, which returns several players at key positions, can find its killer instinct.
“That’s something we lacked last year, was a competitive nature — a dig down deep type attitude and not accepting anything less,” Kinderknecht said. “We’re going to work on finishing games this year.”
Oftentimes, Manhattan would start fast and build a lead, only to see it slip away as the set wore on. With a group of six seniors, as well as several talented underclassmen returning, Kinderknecht wants to see her team respond effectively when mistakes are made or the match starts to turn. She’s even opting to borrow something she read from former Manhattan High volleyball player Tristan McCarty.
“I told the girls yesterday, this is going to be our motto,” Kinderknecht said. “When the going gets tough, we’re going to breathe, we’re going to believe and we’re going to battle. Those are the three things she said. I don’t know if Tristan made that up or not, but we’re going to quote her.”
The Indians open the season Saturday in a tournament at Olathe South.
Hitters Jessie Kujawa, Kaci Cink and Lauren Goralczyk all return, and will have continuity with their setter in Aubrey Jung, who also returns. Seniors Michaela Braun and Erika Hairgrove will also make an impact.
“Every year I’ve loved coaching at this school,” she said. “With our six seniors, hopefully they’re hungry for it, because we weren’t hungry last year. And I don’t blame that on anybody other than the team dynamic and myself. I need to expect more from them. We’re capable, we just have to be able to finish.”
Matty Mahan will slot in as the libero this year, with Kenzie Miller and sophomore Madi Fief also figuring into the rotation as defensive specialists. Juniors Savannah Thaemert and Savannah Roberts will bring some versatility to the court.
“I’ve got two other juniors, Savannah Thaemert and Savannah Roberts, who can both play DS and play all the way around,” Kinderknecht said. “They’re strong hitters but they can pass the ball too.”
Another advantage the Indians will have this year is the benefit of an assistant coach who works on the MHS West Campus in former Riley County head coach Katie Ball.
“I’ve got a new assistant coach — it’s the first time I’ve had a coach that’s in our building,” Kinderknecht said. “She was hired as a counselor, which is nice, because for me to be able to just walk across the school and go talk to her and knock ideas off her.”
Kinderknecht said interest in volleyball was especially high this year.
“There’s a lot of competition this year for spots,” she said. “We had 65 girls come out total. We had 30 freshmen and 35 upperclassmen, so it was a tough year for a cut — the toughest since I’ve been here.”
Kujawa said the team’s goal is to get through sub-state and play on the season’s final weekend.
“We really want to make it to state,” Kujawa said. “Last year, it was tough to lose against JC in sub-state. But we’re doing awesome in practice so far and everybody is working really hard.”
Jung agreed, saying it’s state or bust for the team, which she says has improved from last year.
“I think our defense has improved a lot,” Jung said. “Our passing has gotten a lot better and we’ve been more aggressive lately. That will help a lot, getting touches on things and taking everything one step at a time. Our offense is really strong — I think we’ll be good all around this year.”
Kinderknecht just hopes her class of seniors takes their postseason fate into their own hands.
“I told them you guys can choose to leave a legacy,” she said. “Or you can choose not to.”