Smoky Valley High School volleyball expects a return to the Class 3A state championship. Here's why.

Dylan Sherwood
Salina Journal
Smoky Valley's Katija Blanchat (27) prepares for a block against Southeast of Saline's Ivie Douglas (12) during Tuesday's match at Southeast of Saline.

GYPSUM — One loss can carry as motivation for the following season.

For Smoky Valley's volleyball team, a three-set loss to Sabetha in the 2020 Class 3A state championship game is motivating the Vikings in 2021. 

After sweeping Southeast of Saline (25-10, 25-14) and Halstead (25-21, 25-21) on Tuesday, the top-ranked team in Class 3A is determined to take care of some unfinished business this season. 

"I think it definitely is," said Smoky Valley sophomore Hope Duncan. "I think we've worked really hard in the offseason. Coming off that loss, we still stayed really strong-minded. Underclassmen are coming up and supporting still and (are) wanting to carry that over into next year." 

Smoky Valley's Hope Duncan (30) spikes the ball over the net during Tuesday's match against Halstead at Southeast of Saline.

Of course, with being a favorite to win state in 2021 and being ranked No. 1 in Class 3A according to the Kansas Volleyball Coaches Association, there's always a target on your back and pressure being brought by an opponent. But even after losing six seniors from the state runner-up team, the Vikings have six senior leaders this year along with a core of underclassmen making their contributions.

"Everyone plays their best game against us," senior Abby Rose said. "Everyone wants to knock us down and we want to prove everyone (and) come back from last year just because we lost those girls. We're still the same team and have the same expectations for each other."

The younger players have stepped in to fill the shoes that need to be filled. 

Smoky Valley's Abby Rose (17) spikes the ball during Tuesday's match against Halstead at Southeast of Saline.

"This group shows great maturity and are level-headed," Smoky Valley coach Sharlene Ramsey said. "In close games, I've just been so impressed because they don't get rattled." 

Duncan said the Vikings are trustworthy no matter who is on the court. 

"I know where everybody's at and I'm really confident in everybody and their support," she said. 

Ramsey agreed. 

"Every time we're on the court, I'm so impressed with our younger girls," Ramsey said. "They've jelled. It's been easy on our end as coaches. We have not had to work on that team chemistry. They've taken care of it completely.

"Our girls love to compete. They would rather play a really hard-fought game than have an easy one."

Smoky Valley's Adrian Hazelwood (4) sets the ball during Tuesday's triangular at Southeast of Saline.

Ramsey said all six of her seniors lead in different ways. The Vikings' senior class includes Rose, Madi Tolle, Laini Haigh, Chloe Patrick, Aubrey Boldra and Avery VanDerWege. 

"Abby has a lot of energy (and is) very vocal," Ramsey said of Rose. "Avery is a great leader. Then we have people like Laini and Chloe who are quiet but they lead by example (and) lead by their work ethic.

"Then we have Madi who does lead us by being a stud at the net. She leads just by what she can do in her abilities. Aubrey is coming off an injury and has bounced back really, really well. They just take care of things and make it super easy."

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Smoky Valley gaining support from Lindsborg community 

When Smoky Valley went on its journey to the state tournament, the Lindsborg community showed up when the Vikings needed them to. 

Rose said she's been asked if the Vikings are just like how they are on the court, off the court. 

"We're like, 'Yeah, we do. We love each other. We love playing for each other. We don't want to let each other down,'" Rose said. "It's just a really fun environment to be around and our community has supported us through this year. 

"It's just really fun." 

The Vikings are currently 25-3 with losses to Nickerson, Hillsboro and Clay Center. 

"We can learn from everything," Rose said. "We come back from a loss, we redeem ourselves and it's just a good environment for us to be in." 

Duncan said playing quality competition helps them bounce back when needed. 

"I think it taught us more than any of the wins we have and that we can fight back," Duncan said. "We have a lot of drive and power and fight in us. I have a lot of confidence in our team." 

Smoky Valley still has matches left with Hesston, Pratt, Nickerson and Chapman while also playing in the Abilene Invitational on Oct. 16. The Vikings are currently the No. 1-seed in the Halstead sub-state which is scheduled for Oct. 23. 

"There's some really good teams there," Ramsey said of the Abilene Invitational. "We're excited about our sub-state. Our goal is to make it to state again." 

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Southeast of Saline still trying to find its identity 

Ashley Gilpin said every time Southeast of Saline takes the court, it can be competitive.

But in Tuesday's triangular, she didn't think so. 

"Most of the time when we step on the floor we get better," Gilpin said. "I think we came into this (triangular) intimidated. We're building and I think we're going to get there."  

Southeast of Saline's Brielle Ptacek (10) sets the ball during Tuesday's triangular at Southeast of Saline.

The Trojans were swept by Smoky Valley and needed three sets to defeat Halstead, 21-25, 27-25, 25-10. 

"We were able to get in their heads in that third set and we got up on them," Gilpin said. "It was a good one for us." 

Southeast has talent with libero Chase Gilpin, setter Karsyn Schlesener and Brielle Ptacek, and also has talented young hitters in Lexi Jacobson, Macy Bunch and Christina Wingo. 

"We've got a pretty solid back row," Coach Gilpin said. "We've got Karsyn who's an experienced setter and Brielle who's gaining ground. I think we're going to start jelling.

"Those freshmen are going to gain experience." 

Southeast is scheduled to play Hoisington and Hesston in a triangular on Thursday at home. The Trojans finish the regular season Oct. 12 at Ellsworth and Oct. 19 at Sacred Heart before the Oct. 23 Halstead sub-state. 

Dylan Sherwood has been a sports reporter for the Salina Journal since August 2019. He can be reached at dsherwood@salina.com or on Twitter @DSherwoodSJ