Hillsboro was able to reload in the off season, rather than rebuild, landing the 26-10 Trojans in the Class 3A state tournament, which begins Friday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.

Given the level of talent that has passed through the Hillsboro High School volleyball program in recent years, it would have been easy to write this year’s team off.

But coach Sandy Arnold was able to reload rather than rebuild, landing the 26-10 Trojans in the Class 3A state tournament, which begins Friday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.

“We’re very excited to be here,” Arnold said. “We’re very optimistic. We’re hoping that we don’t end our season Friday. We want to see what we can do. We put things together at the end of the year. Hopefully, it will stay that way.:

This is Hillsboro’s third trip to state in the past five seasons. The Trojans reached state two years ago, finishing third. That team produced two NCAA Division I volleyball players — JuliAnne Chisholm, who is one of the top blockers at Kansas State; and Tina Frick at unbeaten Wichita State. Both are Top 20 programs.

“We lost eight girls at the end of last season,” Arnold said. “We weren’t really sure what to expect. It took us some time to get everyone in the right place. I took a senior front-row player and made her our libero. I put some other players in new roles. It took us some time. Every year, it seems we’ve had someone step up.”

Hillsboro opens play at 3:30 p.m. against second-seeded Garden Plain (37-3).

“They have some very good outside hitters,” Arnold said. “They are very scrappy. They have a lot of confidence coming in. With their record, you know they have a good team.”

Hillsboro then faces third-seeded Rock Creek (35-4) at 4:30 p.m.

“We lost to them in two games in a tournament not too long ago,” Arnold said. “They were very close games. Our girls are excited to see them again.”

The Trojans close out pool play at 8:30 p.m. against sixth-seeded Frontenac (27-10).

“They are way out in southeast Kansas, so I don’t know much about them,” Arnold said. “They have good middles. They can be scrappy. They have one more win than we do.”

In the opposite pool are top-seeded Phillipsburg (37-2), Hoisington (28-11), Osage City (35-5) and Jefferson North (37-6).

“We lost to Hoisington, so we hope to have another chance to play them,” Arnold said. “I don’t know much about the others. We’re going to try and take each match one at a time. If we have to make adjustments, we’ll do that, too.”

There will be a new champion crowned this season. The top four teams from last year didn’t make it back. Silver Lake is the defending champion, followed by Salina Sacred Heart, Remington and Hutchinson Trinity.

Hillsboro took out Trinity in the sub-state finals right after Trinity downed Remington. Sacred Heart lost to Moundridge in the Class 2A sub-state finals.

Jefferson County North is the sole returning team from last year’s tournament.

The Trojans are led on the front line by junior Dakota Kauffman, junior Taryn Mayfield and senior Kassidi Luthi. The top setter is Candace Weinbrenner. On the back row is senior Tiffany Rooker, new to the libero spot, and senior defensive specialist Jet Skiles.

Arnold said the grind of Mid-Central Activities Association play has prepared the team well for state competition. Hillsboro and Hoisington both made it to state from the MCAA.

“Eight of our 10 losses came against teams in the league,” Arnold said. “We’ve beaten some good teams this year. League play was very tough. On the final night of the season, one team had no losses, one team had one loss. The team that had no losses, lost twice. The team with one loss lost twice. We had three losses and won twice that night to hold our spot. It was kind of crazy.”

Arnold said confidence will be key to the team’s success.

“We have to be ready to play in every match,” she said. “... We want to go in confident and optimistic. We have to be on top of our game. We have to communicate on the court and play well in every phase of the game.”