VOLLEYBALL: Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020
When the first of October rolled around for the fall 2020 high school volleyball season, the Garden City Lady Buffaloes found themselves hovering right around .500 or just below.
They had started the season against a tough schedule of state-ranked teams and were standing at 1-5 after the first two weeks. Things slowly improved, eventually moving to a few games above .500, but still working to find its identity.
A team that had a strong senior nucleus but some without a lot of varsity experience was working its way through without one of its top players in senior outside hitter Julie Calzonetti, who was sidelined with health issues for nearly two weeks.
Upon her return, however, the Lady Buffs seemingly hit their stride. They reached the .500 level at the 13-13 mark and have never looked back.
The three-week surge has seen them win 9 matches in a row, improving to 20-13, and with a stunning five-set, come-from-behind victory over Derby in the Class 6A state quarterfinals on Tuesday night in Derby, the Lady Buffs find themselves in the state final four on Friday in Salina.
Their final journey begins at 10:45 a.m. with Pool Play against Blue Valley-West, followed by matches against Topeka-Washburn Rural (11:45) and Olathe Northwest (12:45 p.m.). Following pool play, the four teams will be seeded into a semifinal bracket with 1 vs. 4, and 2 vs. 3. The winners will play for the state championship and the losers will play in the third-place consolation match. That portion starts at 3 p.m. with all matches being played at Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
“It was a bit surreal,” head coach Trista Bailey said of her team’s rally for the ages against Derby on Tuesday. “After the second set (down 22-25, 15-25), they just got together, we talked about changing our strategy to play to our strengths and it all worked out.”
The Lady Buffs began the long comeback trail with a 25-17 win in the third set and then dominated the fourth set, 25-11, to put them into the deciding fifth set, which was played to 15 points and they took an early 8-4 lead and eventually clinched the quarterfinal win with a 15-11 decision.
“We knew we didn’t want the season to end in three sets,” Calzonetti said on Wednesday prior to her team’s practice. “We have played together a long time since elementary school, and we know each other and we just have a great chemistry.”
Reaching the final four, albeit with a different format established by KSHSAA this season, this marks only the second time in school history for the Buffs to reach this stage. They did it in 1997 when they placed fourth and won a school-record 36 matches that season.
The other final four teams: No. 1 seed and No. 1-ranked Olathe Northwest (27-0) advanced with a 5-set victory over Lawrence-Free State (25-15, 24-26, 25-17, 20-25, 16-14). Topeka-Washburn Rural (32-4) swept Wichita-Northwest (25-13, 25-15, 25-15) and Blue Valley-West won another 5-setter over Shawnee Mission-Northwest (22-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-27, 15-7).