By Mark Schnabel
TOEPKA — The “Pool of Death” that contained a pair of traditional Class 5A volleyball powers proved too much for the Newton Railers to overcome Friday at the state tournament at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.
Newton fell to St. James Academy 29-27, 25-17; and Shawnee Heights 25-21, 25-17. Both teams finished in the top three last year.
Newton closed out play by stopping Lansing 22-25, 25-15, 25-17.
“We’re playing the best teams in the state,” Newton coach Jamie Dibbens said. “It hurt not winning that first set. You could tell with St. James and Shawnee Heights that they are two great teams. We played well against them, we just didn’t get that first win against them when we needed it. I was really proud of how we played. We got put into a really tough pool. We knew that going in. They didn’t complain about that. They came in and wanted to be aggressive.”
Against St. James Academy, Newton trailed 10-6 in the first set. Newton got back within one several times, but was unable to tie the set until a Thunder hitting error tied it 21-21. St. James followed with the next two points to prompt Newton’s final time out. Newton got a Regier spike and block to tie 23-23. Newton held off three set points while the Thunder held off one. A Railer violation ended the set.
Newton had 14 errors or violations in the set to four for St. James Academy.
Newton trailed 5-1 in the second set and got as close as two. Newton took its final time out of the set trailing 17-11. Newton managed just six points the rest of the way.
For St. James Academy, Christianna Herron had eight kills. Lauren Niesen had seven kills and the sole downed block for the Thunder. Allison Coens had five kills. Morgan Miller served three aces.
For Newton, Emily Regier had 12 kills and two downed blocks. Taylor Antonowich had seven kills and two downed blocks.
Newton jumped ahead 6-1 in the first set against Shawnee Heights, but gave up a 5-0 run. Newton pushed back out by three. Leading 18-16, Newton gave up a 3-0 run and took a time out. Shawnee Heights added another point after the time out and was never threatened from there.
The Railers fell behind 5-1 in the second set. Down 20-8, Newton made a 9-1 run. Shawnee Heights burned both time outs trying to stop the run. The Railers scored just one more point in the match.
Jazz Sweet led Shawnee Heights with 12 kills and a downed block. Amaya Tillman had eight kills and three downed blocks. Megan Cooney had six kills and a downed block.
For Newton, Antonowich had seven kills and a downed block. Regier had four kills and four downed blocks. DesiRay Kernal had three kills and two downed blocks.
Newton jumped out 5-1 in the first set against Lansing, but then gave up a 9-4 run to prompt a time out. Newton regained its bearings and took a 20-15 lead to force a Lansing time out. Newton then gave up a 7-0 run. Newton never recovered.
Newton led 7-4 in the second set, but Lansing tied it back up 7-7. Newton went back up 17-11. Newton needed four set point attempts to send the match to a deciding set.
Down 9-8 in the third set, Newton made a 5-0 run. Newton pressed its advantage to 19-11, forcing Lansing’s final time out. Newton continued to press the Lions after the time out.
“(After the first set,) we talked about going out on a win,” Dibbens said. “We talked about playing out game. We figured that St. James and Shawnee Heights were the two best teams here and if we wanted to say we were third, we had to own the win against Lansing.”
Antonowich had 13 kills for the Railers. Regier had six kills and two downed blocks. Kailey Harris had three kills and five downed blocks. Kernal and Maggie Remsberg each had four kills. Kyndal Bacon had a kill, three downed blocks and two aces.
For Lansing, Lacey Arellano had 12 kills and three aces. Rachel Fairbanks had six kills and two downed blocks. Victoria Robinson had six kills. Courtney Rexroat had two aces.
“I just had to keep going and serve as much as I could,” said senior Megan Akers, who had serving runs in the second and third sets against Lansing. “I put down a spike when I get a chance to. It seemed like in the first matches (against St. James and Shawnee Heights), we passed well and connected and put balls down. It seemed like in the second game, we shut down. We were all over the place. If we did get a pass, we’d have a hitting error.”
Newton ends the season 39-6. The Railers lose seven seniors off the varsity — Kara Peaney, Regier, Nicole Engelken, Harris, Julia Pierce, Akers and Dawsyn Long.
“We lose a lot, but we get a lot back,” Dibbens said. “The ones coming back have to look at this competition and will have to work hard to play at this level of competition. It takes a lot of reps in the off-season. In the off-season, we try to play at least one tournament up here. We also see some of these teams come down to our area.”