Thus far, every goal that was set back in the summer and pre-season practices has been accomplished for the Garden City High School Lady Buffaloes volleyball team.
Winning the Maize and McPherson Invitational tournaments for the first time.
Going undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference (10-0) and claiming their ninth straight WAC championship on their home court.
Claiming their fifth consecutive Class 6A sub-state championship, thus ensuring another trip to the state tournament.
All that is now in the past, and all that lays in front of the Lady Buffs are the remaining two goals – 1) Make it out of Pool Play on Friday to Saturday’s semifinals and then win a state volleyball championship for the first time in school history.
That quest begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina with the opening match scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. The Buffs will face Lawrence-Free State (4:30), Blue Valley-North (6:30) and Blue Valley (8:30).
The only other time that a Lady Buffs team has reached the semifinal round on Saturday was 22 years ago, in 1997, when first-year coach Melissa Savolt took her 34-1 squad to the state and finished fourth.
Current head coach Trista Bailey said she and her team have had these goals in mind all season and the veteran cast of seniors, mixed with a solid corps of underclassmen, has rolled to an impressive 32-3 season record and have earned the tournament’s No. 1 seed.
In the final regular season rankings conducted by the Kansas Volleyball Coaches Association, the Lady Buffs were ranked No. 2 behind Blue Valley High, a team they lost to earlier in the season at the Lawrence Invitational. Blue Valley (28-8) is seeded No. 4 and is in the same Pool A group of four teams with the Lady Buffs, along with No. 5 Blue Valley-North (27-8) and No. 8 Lawrence-Free State (24-12).
“It’s definitely exciting for us to be the No. 1 seed,” Bailey said earlier in the week in preparing for their state tournament pool play. “It’s unfamiliar territory in a sense, but I also feel the most confidence in this team and their ability to not only do some big things on Friday, but also do big things on Saturday.”
The eight-team field is divided into two, four-team pools, with the Buffs being in Pool A while Topeka-Washburn Rural (No. 2, 36-5), Gardner-Edgerton (No. 7, 26-10), Derby (No. 3, 33-8) and Shawnee Mission-Northwest (No. 6, 28-10) comprising the Pool B group. The top two teams coming out of each pool will qualify for Saturday’s 2 p.m. semifinals, with the championship and consolation matches to follow.
This season, the Lady Buffs played perhaps their most challenging schedule in recent memory, suffering only the three losses, two of those coming to top-ranked Blue Valley and No. 10-ranked Blue Valley West at the Lawrence Invitational in early October. The only other setback came against Class 5A Maize South, a team that is ranked No. 2 and seeded No. 1 in that state tourney, also to be played in Salina.
On the flip side, the Buffs have defeated fellow 6A qualifier Derby (at the Maize Invitational, semifinals); Class 5A No. 6-seeded Bishop Carroll (finals of the McPherson Invitational); Class 4A No. 5 seed Nickerson (McPherson Invitational) and Class 2A No. 8 seed Garden Plain (McPherson Invitational).
It’s that schedule that Bailey feels has prepared her team for this final run at the state tournament.
“I feel like this team, in the preparation they’ve put together, has every reason to feel confident in that going into the state tournament,” Bailey said. “It’s a big stage and we have a lot of experience coming back, so we’re just doing things to make sure we’re mentally and physically prepared.”
Bailey said that going to the Lawrence Invitational where they played five matches in one day (going 3-2) has prepared the team for the quality of teams they will see in Salina.
“It was like our mini-state tournament,” Bailey said. “We’ve got the mentality that every team there (state) is good and they’ve all got solid players, and it gave us a lot of opportunity to see where we were and where we need to improve. Without that tournament, I don’t think our mentality would be as clear as it is. It was huge for us to do that earlier in the season.”
Senior Alli Meng, who transferred to GCHS from Holcomb with the ultimate goal of playing on a state-tournament bound Lady Buffs, said she and her teammates had worked hard to get this far.
“It’s very exciting for us being the No. 1 seed,” Meng said this week. “It hasn’t been done in awhile. I’m proud of everyone in what we’ve accomplished to get here. We’ve been working hard and making our final adjustments to come out on top this weekend.”
The Lady Buffs enter the state tournament on their second, 14-match winning streak, the last setback to Blue Valley on Oct. 5 in Lawrence. They opened the season with 14 consecutive match victories.
For complete list of seedings, records and pool play schedule on Friday, go to http://www.kshsaa.org and click on state volleyball.