Leavenworth eliminated with three losses

A day of highlights Friday for the Lansing High volleyball team only meant more were hopefully to come 24 hours later.

The Lions, behind a consistent run of play over three matches, booked its passage to the Class 5A semifinal round on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at the Topeka Expocentre thanks to an explosive performance all morning.

No. 4 Lansing defeated Andover 2-0 (25-18, 25-21), Leavenworth (25-18, 25-12) and No. 1 Goddard 2-1 (19-25, 25-19) while the upstart No. 8 LVHS Pioneers also fell to Goddard 2-0 (25-23, 25-20) and Andover 2-0 (25-19, 25-15) to finish the season 14-27 overall.

Lansing (34-6) will play in the semifinals for the first time since 2010 and will match up with St. Thomas Aquinas while St. James Academy and Goddard will play on the other side of the draw.

The team overall was head and shoulders in charge of the opposition except for a lagging first set in their final match.

“We came out a little flat that first set, but I felt we were clearly the better team,” Lansing High School head coach Julie Slater said. “It was just too many unforced errors in the first set. After we took care of that, we were good.”

Lansing knew they were moving on after the second round of matches and that may have also uncorked these high-flying Lions.

“They took off,” Slater said. “I thought they played really relaxed and like, ‘OK, this is ours,’ They played confident. 

“I think we’ll be in the championship.”

In the rivalry match between the two schools, Lansing used its superior advantage in the blocking game and a tough back row defense to keep LVHS from getting on any significant runs.

Lansing rolled to a 25-18 first set win, but not before the Pioneers found some mojo late in the set and it appeared some of that might roll over to the second set, until Karli Schmidt took control.

Leading 10-6 in the second set, the Lions had the sophomore step up to serve and Schmidt, who had to curtail her running jump serve due to the shortened court, employed a wicked speed floater and a top spin attack off of a shortened approach scoring five key points in a row to push Lansing up to what would be the deciding, 15-6 edge.

Despite LVHS’ best efforts, the Lions would not allow Leavenworth to feel good about its play for any sustained stretches and put the match away in quick time, taking set two and moving to 2-0 on the day.

“I think we came out too excited to play Lansing and it kind of went down hill from there,” LVHS senior Alaine Sloan said. “Lansing has some really good players, I feel we could have competed a lot better than we did today, but we just didn’t play our game.”

In the opening match for both teams, the Lions took down No, 5 Andover with cool efficiency behind the play of Rachel Fairbanks and Schmidt who each had nine kills in the contest.

After a slow start precipitated by a long wait for their final step onto the court and some inappropriately acting Goddard fans, they took complete control of the match with the opposing Lions, playing as a high a level as they have seen in some time.

Rachel Fairbanks, Amelia Vanderwerff, Lacey Angello and Schmidt hammered away at a shellshocked Goddard defense while senior setter set the offense with artist-like focus as the back row fed ball after ball to near perfection to get the offense going.

“It’s the excitement of every game, one step closer to the finals and it’s nerve-wracking so it really takes off for me,” Schmidt said. “It helps knowing that we have such a talented team and are so well-rounded that it’s good to know that everyone has your back. I think (it allows her to relax and swing away), but at the same time you have to play your very best at all times.”

“I think we might have underestimated (Goddard) a little bit too, but once we realized we had to play our game (they were fine),” junior libero Kennedy Farris said.  “(The Goddard student section) also made us go off because they were being a little disrespectful and we wanted to destroy them. After that, we realized we had to play every single point like we were the best team here.

“That’s the best we’ve ever played in a long time, especially defense-wise. (Watching her teammates hit away) it’s amazing and makes me really happy. I love watching them. I play for the team. Watching them be successful, makes me feel happy. Yeah, sometimes (she’s jealous), but I bet sometimes they wish they could dive and get a ball up too.”

Leavenworth took advantage of a poor serve receiving Goddard team in the opening match of the day to make things interesting, but their inability to close key rallies were the Pioneers’ undoing.

“I feel if we had taken care of our side of the net and been more aggressive and put the ball away with that go-getter attitude, we definitely would have come out on top,” LVHS head coach Cassandra Rockers said. “(Serving) is that first contact and first touch on the ball and we tell them if you aren’t going to be aggressive and try to get them out of system, you aren’t going to be successful.

“(The quick attack) our timing was off and slow. Our first game is always slow.”

In the Pioneers’ finale, the team played down as the knowledge of being eliminated after Goddard beat Andover had sunk in.

Still the season was a success for a program making the right steps toward hopefully becoming a regular visitor here.

“At the beginning of the season we were a little rocky working with each other, but as the season progressed we played with a lot more heart,” sophomore Kelcey Hund said. “I was proud of us for how far we made it and we just have to work harder next year and we can win more games.

“I think we were caught in the moment. When we get down it’s hard for us to battle back, but at the end we got together more and fought back.”

For the senior Pioneers, this journey was a welcome if unexpected one.

“I didn’t think we’d get to where we are and win as many games as we did or go to state,” Sloane said. “Everyone said they thought it was possible, but I didn’t think we could actually do it. We still made history getting here for the first time in a long time and we really kind of changed our program and next year they will be even better.”

Rockers wished the final match would have gone better, but she is still proud of her girls.

“I hate how it ended, especially for the seniors,” Rockers said. “We did see some leadership, some girls to step up fight, show some heart and give it everything they had in that last match. Especially being down 12-1 (in the second set).”