It almost sounds like old hat for George Creason and the Pleasant Hill volleyball program by now — and, in a way, it is.
For the third consecutive season, the Chicks qualified for the Class 3 state volleyball tournament.
The long drive to Cape Girardeau will be nothing new; same for the Show-Me Center surroundings.
“They’ve seen it before,” Creason said. “There won’t be too many surprises up there. They’ll know what to expect. They’re not going to step out on the court and be the wide-eyed kids, who are awed by the atmosphere. They’re going to go down there with a mission in mind and that experience makes them stay focused on the job at hand.”
This familiarity isn’t breeding contempt for the Chicks, it’s breeding confidence.
Even after five starters graduated from last season, Creason believes this team still has the talent and ability to make a run at the championship, which has eluded Pleasant Hill the previous two trips.
The Chicks (28-6-1) begin that run with pool play Friday, Oct. 27, against fellow semifinalists Lutheran South, Helias Catholic from Jefferson City,and Incarnate Word Academy.
The top two teams meet in the final on Saturday, Oct. 28, while the bottom two square off for third place.
Pleasant Hill reached the final last season, losing to Lutheran South in two sets.
While this year’s team doesn’t have as much varsity experience as last year’s did, the Chicks do have a lot of seniors who had to wait their time before cracking the varsity lineup.
It’s a senior group, Creason noted, that’s reached three straight state semifinals, won four district titles, and gone 40-0 while winning four Missouri River Valley Conference West titles.
“Some of these girls hadn’t played varsity before just due to the fact there were a lot of great players ahead of them,” Creason said. “Now, they’re getting their chance. I knew the Final Four was a possibility with this group as long as we continued to improve and build some chemistry as the season went along.”
Pleasant Hill did that to a point where it’s been untouchable since the postseason began. The Chicks haven’t dropped a set since the start of district play and only one of those sets was even close.
St. Pius X pushed the Chicks 25-20 in the first set of their sectional at St. Joseph Benton, but the Chicks rolled 25-15 in the second set.
During the quarterfinal against Benton, Pleasant Hill cruised back to state with a 25-11, 25-16 win.
“We were pretty well prepared for the postseason,” Creason said. “We tried to structure our practices throughout the season where we’d be peaking at this time. We prepared quite a bit, too, mentally.”
Pleasant Hill’s postseason run, as has most of its season for that matter, has been powered by outside hitters Logan Gish and Anna Haynes.
Gish, a senior, leads the team with 266 kills and Haynes, a junior, is second with 246. Gish’s sister, Morgan, ranks third with 178 kills.
“Most of our offense runs through our outside hitters,” Creason said. “We haven’t seen yet a team that’s been able to stop both of them in the same match. Combined, they’re a pretty intimidating hitting duo.”
Creason — who is making his seventh trip to state as a coach, including six with Pleasant Hill — said the Chicks will know plenty about their opponents before they get to Cape Girardeau. They will also know that the best thing they can do is relax, especially on the first day.
It’s the knowledge that comes from having been there before.
“When you get down to state, it’s kind of a nice situation, because it’s no longer the one-and-done scenario and that takes some of the pressure off,” Creason said. “I think if the girls just go down there and not worry about what’s going on on the other side of the court and just play to our level, I think we have a chance of possibly making the finals.”