HESSTON — Jason Peters needed a couple of days to reflect on the volleyball season enjoyed by his Hesston Swathers.
And there was plenty to enjoy.
The Swathers came within one set of winning the Class 3A state title this past weekend in Emporia, losing a tremendous three-set match to No. 1-ranked Silver Lake, a team they had defeated on Friday in pool play.
The Swathers, third in the state last year, set a school record for victories (38) and tied the school’s highest state finish ever as Hesston also was second in 1992, 1994 and 1996.
The Swathers’ Kailey Jo Ince and Alaina Dunlavy, both juniors, were named to the All-State Tournament Team.
“This has been an incredible season with some incredible progress and improvement made throughout the year,” Peters said. “We started the season with several returning players from last year’s team, but had significant roles to fill, especially our passing and defense. We focused on those things every day in practice throughout the season and gradually made progress to the point where our passing was one of our strengths.
“Our defense was not always as consistent, but we made huge strides the last two weeks of the season and performed at a high level when it mattered the most. We fought through a number of injuries and challenges from sub-state through the state tournament, but the team was able to keep things in perspective, adjust when needed and not get flustered when we had to change things up a bit.”
Hesston was the headline story of the first day with wins over Silver Lake (25-20, 15-25, 25-23) and No. 1 seed Thomas More Prep (26-24, 25-20) in the first two matches. The Swathers then polished off Humbolt (25-22, 25-10) to win its pool.
“The level of energy and resilience the team showed throughout Friday was incredible,” Peters said. “To come out of pool play as the only team in the tournament 3-0 was a great accomplishment and gave us confidence knowing that a run at a state championship was a real possibility.”
The Swathers then went up against Cheney in the semifinals on Saturday, a team they had lost to in early September. Hesston needed a grueling three sets for a 25-19, 22-25, 25-16 success to advance to the finals for the fourth time in school history.
Hesston outlasted Silver Lake 26-24 in the first set and had a 21-18 lead late in the second set. Silver Lake, though, showed a lot of grit by rallying for a 25-23 victory.
In set 3, Hesston blazed to a 7-1 lead, but again Silver Lake would not be denied as it charged back for a 25-21 victory.
“It was disappointing to lose the championship match, especially knowing how close we were to winning the first state volleyball title in school history,” Peters said. “But the girls left everything on the court and stepped up to compete at the highest level possible in a situation none of them had been in before.
“Their performances at the state tournament were unlike anything else they had shown the rest of the season and it was amazing to think how far the team has come throughout the year. I knew there was potential for a special season at the beginning of the year, but we had to work on a lot of things during the season to get to that point and everything finally came together at the end of the year to make it happen. Our coaching staff is incredibly proud of the team’s effort and the way they bought into the idea of doing the extra things that were needed to become a great team.”
The Swathers must replace a large and wildly successful senior class that includes Cameron Denno, Emma Krehbiel, Tatiana Lujano, Bailey McLain, Kinsley Miller, Brityne Rucker, Kennedy Teach and Hanna Horstemke.
“Our senior class leaves us having accomplished some incredible things this season after starting the season with a lot of unknowns,” Peters said. “They have helped continue to raise the expectations for Swather volleyball and the success they have helped the team achieve this year will be a great goal for future teams to work toward.”
The Swathers smashed eight school records along the way and three individual marks. Ince finished the year with 634 kills and had 82 in the state tournament. Dunlavy had 118 assists in the five matches and now occupies the top two single-season slots. She had 876 this season. Rylie Schilling broke the Hesston record for blocks with 83.
In addition, the Swathers won the CKL Preseason Tournament for the second straight year and shared the CKL regular-season title. Six of the seven losses came to ranked teams.
“This group bought into the concept of playing as a team and not letting individual mistakes bring down the positive energy that made our team very successful,” Peters said. “We struggled with that at times throughout the season, but were able to put together very strong matches during the last two weeks of the season when everyone came together to contribute to the team. It was a joy to work with this group this year and to see the improvements made not only in volleyball skills, but in skills like working together for a common goal, keeping positive attitudes in the midst of mistakes and stepping up to fill their roles and doing whatever they could to benefit the team.”