State finals prove difficult task for Lady Buffs volleyball after late-season surge

VOLLEYBALL: Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020

There was no masking the challenge facing the Garden City Lady Buffaloes volleyball team on Friday when they entered the final four Class 6A state tournament at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina.

After all, the Lady Buffs, with a modest 20-13 record but on a hot-streak of nine consecutive match wins, including a pair over state-ranked teams Hutchinson and Derby, would be facing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4-ranked teams in the COVID-minted format which had only four teams at the state site rather than the typical eight.

With that change of number of teams, the daily format called for all 4 teams to face each other in Pool Play, then seeded into a bracket for the semifinals and then the championship and consolation matches.

The difficulty started at the outset of Pool Play Friday morning when the Lady Buffs took on No. 3 seed Blue Valley-West. They fought gallantly in the opening set, falling 23-25, only to come up short in the second set by a 25-17 count. That put them into the second match of Pool Play where they met No. 2-seeded Topeka-Washburn Rural and w14-ere swept there by scores of 25-12, 25-12. That left the Lady Buffs to battle No. 1-seeded Olathe Northwest, which had lost its first two matches of the season in the earlier battles with Washburn Rural (24-26, 14-25) and to Blue Valley-West (22-25, 25-22, 22-25). Northwest toppled the Lady Buffs 25-15, 25-16.

With Blue Valley-West surprising Washburn Rural in the other pool match 25-21, 25-18, that put Blue Valley-West into the No. 1 seed for the semifinal bracket to face the Lady Buffs. Washburn Rural at 2-1 and Olathe Northwest at 1-2 matched up in the other semifinal as the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds.

The second time around facing Blue Valley-West didn’t go as hoped either, as the Lady Buffs fell in straight sets by scores of 25-9, 25-14. Meanwhile, Olathe Northwest knocked off Washburn Rural in the other semifinal to set up an all eastern Kansas championship match while the two teams representing the western portion of 6A met in the consolation match. The rematch was much the same as the Lady Junior Blues took the Lady Buffs 25-14, 25-14.

Statistically, senior Mya Cruz led the team with 4 service aces while Julie Calzonetti added 3 and Gisselle Gutierrez 2. Calzonetti topped the kills category with 32, Melody Flores had 25 and Abby Ellerman 24. All are seniors. Ellerman topped the team in blocks with 6, Symone Simmons was next with 5 and Flores with 4. Cruz had 100 of the team’s 103 assists. Flores finished with 63 digs to pace that category while Calzonetti followed with 48, senior Abby Parr with 43 and senior McKenna Jagels added 35.

The 0-5 day left the Lady Buffs with a final season record of 20-18. Despite the results, the season saw many bright spots for a group that had returned just two starters from a state tourney team of 2019 that saw five seniors move on to play college volleyball.

“Even though the day didn’t go as we had hoped, these kids have left their mark on this program,” said fourth-year head coach Trista Bailey. “They had their ups and downs, but they surprised a lot of people along the way and have a lot to be proud of.”

Bailey said the state tourney experience would prove valuable to those underclassmen who will return in 2021 and beyond.

“Going to the state tournament is such a memorable experience,” Bailey said, “and I know our kids are grateful that they were able to compete on such a big stage with some really talented volleyball teams.”

For Bailey, it was extra special since this class of seniors were freshmen when she took the reins of the program in the 2017 season.

“I’m so grateful that they made the commitment to our program,” Bailey said, “and to working hard for the last four years. They helped lay the foundation for years to come.”

In her four years guiding the Lady Buffs program, Bailey has had her teams post a 106-46 won-loss record, a winning percentage of .697.

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