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Girls volleyball wins state championship; ends 16-year dry spell

Hannah+Stewart+leaps+with+other+members+of+the+LHS+volleyball+team+as+they+near+the+end+of+their+second+set+against+Blue+Valley+High+School.+The+Lions+dominated+the+first+day+of+play+at+the+state+tournament+in+Salina.
Hannah Stewart leaps with other members of the LHS volleyball team as they near the end of their second set against Blue Valley High School. The Lions dominated the first day of play at the state tournament in Salina.

Hannah Stewart leaps with other members of the LHS volleyball team as they near the end of their second set against Blue Valley High School. The Lions dominated the first day of play at the state tournament in Salina.

Emily Kruse

Emily Kruse

Hannah Stewart leaps with other members of the LHS volleyball team as they near the end of their second set against Blue Valley High School. The Lions dominated the first day of play at the state tournament in Salina.

By Daniel Davidson, Sports Editor

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SALINA — The Lions stormed the court and collapsed in a dogpile as soon as senior Michaela Cordova’s attack launched the ball off an opposing player to give them the state title.

Lawrence faced off against Blue Valley in finals on the second day of the 6A State Championship at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina. The Lions ended an enormously successful season by winning the third set in the match (25-14) to give the team its first state title in 16 years.

Coming in the first day of the tournament, the Lions were ranked as the first seed with an impressive 31-2 record. After going up against Blue Valley West, Gardner-Edgerton and Blue Valley, the Lions finished Friday night undefeated and confident.

Going into finals on the second day, senior Laura Willoughby said the team felt like they already had the state title locked down.

“When we beat Washburn in the first set of semifinals, we all knew,” Willoughby said. “Washburn was, to us, more of the championship game… they’re honestly the most intimidating team we played, so once we had that first set we knew we had them down, and when we won that game we all sort of just knew we were gonna win [state].”

But to win that coveted state title, the Lions would have to beat a tough Blue Valley team a second time.

In their first game against Blue Valley on Friday, the Lions narrowly won in the second set after intense back-and-forth scoring. With this in mind going into the championship game rematch, the team stressed the importance of staying level-headed.

“Our whole thing the entire year was having little games to five, winning those games by five just helped us get through the whole thing,” Willoughby said. “Little steps to get there helps us a lot because little victories ultimately to get 25 just slows the game down and keeps us focused.”

In the championship match, when the Lions dropped the first set to Blue Valley (19-25), this sort of mindset became crucial to the team. The Lions had only lost nine of ninety total sets the entire season, and this game would mark only the fifth time this year Lawrence needed a third set to win a game.

The Lions started to dig in and were able to keep the lead the majority of the second and third sets, which Willoughby attributes to the team’s strong defense, especially from senior Lauren Maceli.

“Best defense in the whole state,” Willoughby said. “That’s definitely what got us through the season and that’s why we had such an amazing end at state. Lauren is just so amazing, she doesn’t let anything drop and she passes balls that you wouldn’t think are even possible. We go after everything and never let a ball drop without throwing our bodies at it, and that’s something we have that a lot of teams didn’t.”

This relentless defense by the Lions also allowed the team to dominate the court offensively and keep racking up points. Senior Abby Monroe finished with 12 kills, Bailey Unruh with 7, and Sammy Williams with 4.

“When we are digging balls like crazy, that frustrates the other team’s offense,” Willoughby said. “If we are able to send an aggressive ball back, and they’re already pretty frustrated, we can find openings. We may have smaller hitters but they do a good job of mixing up their shots and finding those openings on the floor.”

With last season being the first year since 2009 that the team reached state, the Lions came in motivated to go even further, keeping that small taste of success in their mind. After dominating the first few games of the season, coach Scarbrough and the team were determined to make it all the way at state.

Willoughby says the team’s amazing season record and their unrivaled domination at the state tournament left everyone ecstatic and looking forward to raising another state title banner in the gym.

“I feel just amazing,” Willoughby said. “On top of the world this week.”

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Girls volleyball wins state championship; ends 16-year dry spell