With seven seniors who have been to state three out of the last four years, the Newton High School volleyball team hopes to make waves at the Class 5A tourament Friday and Saturday at the Landon Arena, Topeka Expocentre.
With seven seniors who have been to state three out of the last four years, the Newton High School volleyball team hopes to make waves at the Class 5A tourament Friday and Saturday at the Landon Arena, Topeka Expocentre.“It seems a little easier,” Newton coach Jamie Dibbens said of state preparation. “Last week before sub-state, we had to deal with Erin Heim tearing her ACL. I felt like we were caught off-guard by that. We’ve been working on the consistency of knowing who’s in all the time. We’ve been trying to prepare the younger girls of where to be at.”This year’s state field consists of one of the oddest pairings perhaps ever in the history of the Class 5A tournament.In pool A are Parochial high schools Bishop Miege, 34-3; St. Thomas Aquinas, 27-9; Bishop Carroll, 27-9; and Kapaun-Mt. Carmel, 24-14.In pool B are public schools Newton, 34-7; McPherson, 28-13; Shawnee Heights, 28-18; and Lansing 33-7.Miege is the top seed and two-time defending champion. The Stags have won 18 overall titles, five titles in the last 10 years. Aquinas has won three titles in the last 10 years, including one in Class 6A. Carroll won a title in 2001.“It’s kind of crazy,” Dibbens said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it come out this way. (Miege and Aquinas) have been in the same pool before. They play each other during the season throughout. I’ve had comments from people in the community about how things have worked out.”The most familiar opponent for the Railers is McPherson, but the traditional rivals only met once this season, with Newton winning in three games at the Newton Invitational.Newton and Kapaun were in a tournament together this year but never got to play. Newton downed Kapaun in two games at state last year. Newton lost to Aquinas at state in two games last year.Lansing last won a Class 4A title in 2002. Shawnee Heights last won the title in 2000 and is one of just two public schools (now Class 6A Blue Valley West) to win the 5A title since 2000.“I don’t feel like we’ve got a lot of information on any team this year,” Dibbens said. “We only played McPherson once. Shawnee Heights and Lansing are both strong teams and play very good competition.”Newton got to state with a pair of two-game matches over Salina Central and Liberal in last week’s sub-state tournament.“I want to see us play with a lot more emotion,” Dibbens said. “We need to play with a higher energy level. Our pool is kind of up in the air. Emotion is going to be one of those keys. We had spent quite a bit of time against Liberal. They had a very good outside hitter. It’s quite a bit different preparation than going into a state tournament.“I’d love to come out 3-0, but as long as we played hard and we play well, I’ll be happy.”Dibbens credited getting dropped from the state coaches rankings the week before sub-state as motivation for the team.“At that point, we had the fourth-highest winning percentage,” Dibbens said. “I know that fired us up. Being the second seed doesn’t add much pressure. Most of the teams will feel the same about us whether we’re second or eighth. Lansing has been there before. Most of the other teams have been there before.”This is Dibbens’ fourth time to state with Newton out of five years. The Railers have been to state six times since 2003, finishing in the top four three times.“I think we’ve got five girls that have experience playing there,” Dibbens said. “We have five seniors who are playing their last few games, and they are going to want to play hard.”One of those seniors is Kate Lehman.“I’m excited,” Lehman said. “We have a good chance of getting out of pool and playing Saturday.”Lehman credited the team’s camraderie for its success this season.“We have lot’s of leadership,” she said. “When wee’re all on point and playing well, not a lot of teams can beat us. We want to win that first match to give us confidence to win the next two games.”Lehman winds up her volleyball career this weekend as she committed to play basketball at Fort Hays State.“This whole team really wants to win,” Lehman said. “I think we have the potential. This is the best year of volleyball that we’ve ever had in all four years I’ve played here.”