Cougars keep season in perspective following sub-state final loss to Lawrence High
Lawrence Entering the Class 6A sub-state volleyball tournament on Saturday at Lawrence High, Shawnee Mission Northwest was one of the hottest teams in the state.
The second-seeded Cougars had won 11 straight matches and 19 of their 22, but they knew they would likely have to avenge one of their losses in order to reach the state tournament for the second straight season. After the Cougars defeated SM North, 25-6, 25-13, in the sub-state semifinals, a rematch against was third-seeded Lawrence High was set with a trip to state on the line.
Despite being the higher seed and technically the home team, the Cougars fell just short of upending the Lions on their home court, as Lawrence High won, 25-19, 20-25, 25-22.
"We improved our record by a lot from last season. We worked hard to get here and Lawrence hard put up a hard fight," senior Ava Graves said. "They just came out on top. That's frustrating, but we're trying to think of the whole season."
While the Cougars weren't able to get back to the state tournament, they won 13 more matches than last season and finished with a record of 29-11. Northwest was consistently ranked in the Kansas Volleyball Association top 10 poll, which Graves said was simply a testament to the effort put in over the past couple of years.
"It means a lot because we go in the gym and work hard every day," Graves said. "We bring in freshmen who work hard every day. It's hard weighing it all in one match because we played a great season."
Graves was a kill shy of recording a double-double against the Lions (26-11) after finishing with nine kills and 10 digs. The SM Northwest senior had two kills during a 6-2 run for the Cougars in the third set that tied it up at 19-19. The Cougars couldn't get over the hump, though, as the Lions won the next point and never relinquished the lead.
The senior class of Graves, Morgan Berry, Sabrina Creason, Grace Roeder, Kennady Bustamante and Abriel Jarrett made sure to show their appreciation to coach Susan Specht and assistants BJ Specht and Elizabeth Stover following the loss to the Lions. Berry presented them a signed ball from the team before they headed back to Shawnee.
"Having six seniors that care so much about the program has really made all the difference in the program — all the way from varsity to the freshmen — with how they've kind of taken over everything," Stover said. "They never gave up and they instilled that into everybody else. The fight, the passion — everything comes from our six seniors."
Berry suited up as the libero on Saturday, and tied Graves with a team-high of 10 digs. The SM Northwest senior was one of four players that Susan Specht used as a libero over the course of the season, and the staff was comfortable with whoever they put in the position.
"They are kind of trained in relatively everything. Whoever we think is going to do that job that day the best is going to be the person out there playing it and so tonight it was Morgan," Stover said. "It has been Rylee (Garrett) throughout the season and Kennady and Abriel a couple of times. We're pretty confident in whoever we throw back there that they're going to do the job."
Stover felt that the Cougars' defensive effort on the back row and at the net helped them to gain some momentum in the second set. Creason and junior Hannah Black chipped in eight digs, and Black and Graves added three blocks.
"Starting out strong, having some big blocks in the beginning, making our serves, not missing serves were some key things that we wanted to work on going into the second (set) and they definitely did that," Stover said.
Black, Garrett and the freshmen duo of Reanne DeBose and Taylor McCarthy will give the Cougars some key pieces to build around as they look to fill the voids of their six seniors going forward. DeBose and Creason led the Cougars with 12 and 11 kills, respectively, against the Lions.
"Reanne from the beginning of the season to now is one of our biggest hitters and Taylor has made great growth between passing and hitting," Stover said. "Rylee and Hannah Black are also huge players coming back next year that will help to hopefully have even more of a successful season next year."
Black and DeBose also led the Cougars in kills against SM North with 15 and eight, respectively. Shawnee Mission North coach Crystal Foss was proud of the way her team competed, but said that it will be a goal of the Indians to play with the same level of intensity throughout the match going into next season.
"We need to work on our consistency, so being consistent (and) starting the fight at zeros instead of starting at 0-7 or 0-12," Foss said. "So just starting the fight and zeros and fighting all the way through."
The Indians ended the season with a record of 4-28.