TOPEKA — The Thunder was heard loud and clear Saturday afternoon in the Kansas Expocentre.
By CHARLES REDFIELD
Special to The Star
The St. James Academy Thunder that is.
The Thunder, which had won four state titles in a row in Class 4A, won its first 5A state championship, beating Topeka Shawnee Heights 25-19, 25-6. St. James trailed 15-12 in the first game before taking over with a 13-4 run. The Thunder had no trouble winning the second game.
“We just came together to remind ourselves that we are family,” junior Arianna Person said. “We knew we had to relax and play together as a team.”
Coach Nancy Dorsey was on the sidelines with her team after her father, Joe Bell, suffered a major heart attack following the Thunder’s substate win last week.
“We practiced all week about family,” she said. “My dad is still in very critical condition.”
Dorsey thanked everyone in the Kansas City area who has emailed her.
“The support from the people of Kansas City has been amazing,” she said. “There is no way that I can thank them all.”
The Thunder, which finished 39-4, also beat Shawnee Heights in the first match of pool play Friday afternoon, 25-17, 27-25.
“It means the world to me,” senior libero Emily Tripp said. “I have been looking forward to this my entire career. I had my team and my family behind me.”
Junior Audrey Wenski added, “This past week has been really crazy with the health problems. We wanted to play as a family and we won it for them.”
Dorsey didn’t look at it as a challenge moving up to 5A.
“I don’t look at it as being different,” she said. “We play 5A and 6A schools all the time. We looked at it as a new challenge and we were ready.”
The Thunder easily beat Wichita Kapaun in the semifinals, 25-10, 25-13, but didn’t get to see a much-anticipated meeting with Bishop Miege in the finals. The two schools split two matches in December.
Miege finished third after losing to Shawnee Heights 29-27, 15-25, 25-20 in the semifinals and beating Wichita Kapaun 25-18, 25-16 in the consolation match. The Stags entered the tournament with 21 5A championships and were at state for the 32nd time in the 33-year career of coach Gwen Pike.
The Stags led Shawnee Heights 24-20 in the first semifinal game before losing. They finished 35-7.