Hanover reaches 4th straight state volleyball championship. Take 2nd once again
It was a familiar site for volleyball fans in the state of Kansas. For the Hanover Wildcats, it was a familiar situation. One that had been in before, one they had been in 6 times in the past decade, it was another appearance for the Wildcats at the state volleyball.
The Wildcats had their work cut out for them in Emporia though. The 4 seed and with an opportunity to play the team that had defeated them in the championship game just one year before the Lebo Wolves.
It didn't come easy early for Hanover as they trailed 12-7 midway through set 1 against Wheatland-Grinnell thanks to some incredible digs, Hanover's power game was being put on ice. Hanover would make a strong charge with 6 straight points including Anna Jueneman's 3 kill in the match to make it 17-16. Jueneman was one of many stars for Hanover on this day. Out of the timeout much of the same for the Wildcats, this time it was Gracie Bruna who put down a big spike and suddenly 5 point hole had become a 2 point lead up 18-16. Hanover's biggest lead in the set would come at match point leading 24-19 and then again as they finished off set 1 25-20.
Hanover once again fell behind Wheatland early in set 2, losing 4 of the first 6 points. But after Ally Scheele made one of the more athletic plays of the day followed up by an Anna Jueneman point, we were once again tied at 9. Drew Bruna would come through with 2 service aces to make it 11-9, but would be met with a 4-0 run to make it 14-13. That lead would grow to 4 at 18-14 and after splitting the next 6 points, the Wildcats would eventually drop set 2 25-21.
Hanover came out determined in set 3, scoring 5 straight points including an emphatic spike by Katelyn Klipp. Wheatland would bring it back to a 7-5 deficit and manage to tie it again at 16 when Wildcat Coach Melissa Holle called a time out. Coming out of the timeout Hanover showed their athleticism with multiple shots down the lines. Hanover reached the 20 point mark first and did so with a 3 point lead. Grinnell seeing the game slipping out of their grasp would call one last time out but by then the damage was already done and after a Drew Bruna lob shot fell to the floor, Hanover would take the match, 25-20 21-25, 25-21.
Next up for Hanover was Bucklin. The Red Aces lived up to their name early as once again Hanover fell behind 9-4 forcing Melissa Holle to call a time out. Whether it was strategy or just to allow her team to catch their breath and their composure whatever happened in that time out may have been one of the more key moments of this match, as the Wildcats went from 5 down to score 6 straight points to retake the lead at 10-9. With ties at 16 and 19, Hanover was going to have to finish the set strong to take the 1-0 lead.
Hanover would take 4 straight points and finished off the first set 25-22. Set 2, was the Drew Bruna show, 6 kills a pair of incredible plays at the net and earning point number 19 with a big stuff at the net that was unreturnable and forced Bucklin into a timeout. Out of the break Tessa Lohse hit an ace to win the race to 20 at 20-17. Bruna then set up Schotte for the 24th point while the kill on the decider came from...you guessed it the Freshman Middle Hitter Bruna. And that's all folks! 25-22, 25-18 Hanover defeats Bucklin to go to 2-0 in pool play.
Then it was time for the rematch. Already up 2-0 in pool play, this was the one that they'd been waiting for, the air had a little more tension and both teams had a little more grit to their game.
From the first whistle it was apparent that these were two teams that had been here before. Poise, athleticism and unwavering mental toughness. Traits that both teams had plenty of. After breaking even through the first 10 points, Anna Jueneman hit a cannon shot directly into the floor that echoed in the arena. Hanover got out to a 15-12 lead before Lebo needed a break. From there, Hanover's veteran leadership showed through as they closed out the set with leads of 19-13 and the clincher at 25-18.
Early in set 2, a new leader emerged for the Wildcats in Trinity Schlabach. Schlabach led the team in digs allowing the Hanover offense to create big plays. Hanover led for most of the way in set 2 keeping their opponent at a 3 to 5 point differential on their way to a straight sets victory taking the 2nd set 25-22 and the match over 25-18, 25-22. The win was a big accomplishment for sure considering what happened in 2022, but Hanover couldn't let up and their focus still had to be on the ultimate goal but for right now Hanover was one of the 4 best teams in the state and had a date with St. John's-Tipton on Saturday morning.
9 a.m. came around quickly and it was time for Hanover to try seal the deal. They were only one match away from being back in the state title game, Hanover arguably looked it's best they had all tournament in their match against BSJ. For one of the first times in Emporia, Hanover started with a 3-1 lead, the stars once again showed out for Hanover. 9 kills from Drew Bruna and 7 more from Anna Jueneman. Tessa Lohse with 7 ace serves and Kaydence Schotte leading the team in kill percentage delivering on 2/3rds of her attempts. Hanover would quickly dispatch of the Bluejays 25-10 in set 1.
Hanover had a little more trouble closing out their opponents in set 2, but the tide turner was an impressive dig by Gracie Bruna that set up a Jueneman kill that would put Hanover up 13-9 midway through the set. After losing a point to tie it at 16, Coach Jueneman had a pretty simple message: Slow down.
From there, Hanover would go on a 5-1 run to be the first team to reach 20 points and hold a 4 point lead. The Wildcat fans could feel it, point after point fell for the Cats until match point while leading 24-20, BSJ would put up a 50/50 ball that went off the hand of Schotte and right back over the net. Hanover had done it! They were one step from the ultimate prize, one step from the state championship. Elation hit the Wildcats faces!
But like something out of the story books, across the bracket was Lebo. Elation turned back into focus, back into grit and the will to do what they had done just a few short hours before this. They had proven they could take out the Wolves in pool play but now everything was on the line.
Like two prize fighters these two would go back and forth early on until Lebo was able to open a small lead and after a mishandled pass on a fairly simple play, the wear of a long day was really starting to set in. Hanover called a time out down 11-5, a spot that they weren't strangers to, but on this day, not a spot they needed to be in. Out of the timeout, Hanover got it as close as 4 at 19-15 but couldn't close the gap losing set 1 25-20. In set 1 Drew Bruna with 5 kills; 3 for Anna Jueneman; 2 each for Gracie Bruna and Katelyn Klipp; Tessa Lohse with an ace
In set 2, Lebo proved why they are the defending state champions, forcing 4 straight return errors by Hanover before Schlabach returned a shot that fell behind 2 defenders to make it 5-2. Lebo scored three of the next four to push their lead to four. Back to back kills by Gracie and Drew Bruna got Hanover within striking distance but Lebo would match one and two point runs with 4 and 5 point spurts of their own and Hanover couldn't ever really get traction as they fell in the championship 25-20, 25-10.
The Wildcats end their season, 35-7. A terrific season that ends once again in the state championship. The story of the Hanover Wildcat volleyball team is far from over and returning a large portion of this squad in 2024 look for the Lady Cats to be a legitimate threat again.