High School Sports

Kansas City’s volleyball dominance reigns, but Wichitans believe the gap is closing

St. James Academy senior hitter Audrey Klemp goes for a spike against Maize South at the 2018 Kansas Class 5A tournament Friday in Salina. (Oct. 26, 2018)
St. James Academy senior hitter Audrey Klemp goes for a spike against Maize South at the 2018 Kansas Class 5A tournament Friday in Salina. (Oct. 26, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

Since 2013, the Kansas City area has put up video game-like numbers on the state volleyball tournaments.

In Kansas Class 6A and 5A, the KC area (including Lansing, Leavenworth and the Olathe schools) is 40-3 against the Wichita area. Such schools have won those matches by an average of 7.4 points per set.

Since 2001, the Wichita area has one state championship in Kansas’ top two classifications. In that same time span, the Kansas City area has 23 and hasn’t gone without one since 1999. None of the players in the 2018 state voleyball tournaments were alive in 1999.

No Wichita area schools qualified for the Class 6A tournament, which started Friday in Salina, and as of print time, the Wichita area’s four 5A schools had one win and it came from Andover beating another area team, Newton.

Andover coach Holly Avalos, however, said the gap is shrinking.

“Honestly, I’m happy just to win one,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to come here, but this year, I was kind of excited because I felt like this year would be different and I felt amazing about this year’s team of mine because they are just fantastic together. But also because I wanted to see how much ground we have made up.”

The Trojans opened their 5A pool play with a loss to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most accomplished programs in Kansas volleyball history. Andover dropped the first set 25-15 but put up 23 in the second and held it tight throughout.

Avalos said she would never tell her team they are outmatched. But in the state tournament, she said she knows her group is going to have to take one from an out-of-town team in order to make it to the second day and the state semifinals.

“The Kansas City region is one of the tops in the United States,” she said. “You’ll see a lot of these girls on high-level club teams since they were 10 years old competing and winning at nationals.

“For me, because they do know how good some of these teams are, I told them, ‘It’s just another game. They are the same kind of teenagers that you are.’ “

Goddard reached the Class 5A semifinals in 2017 but did so by beating a pair of Wichita area schools. When the Lions got to Saturday, they lost to St. James Academy and Lansing in the straight sets to finish fourth.

St. James Academy came into the 2018 tournament with the No. 8 seed and the most losses in the field, but the Thunder is considered to be one of the favorites coming off a state title last year.

St. James coach Nancy Dorsey said the seed, the record, the pool, none of that matters to her team. St. James is out to play the best in the state — and beyond.

“Our record is irrelevant,” Dorsey said. “When we get here, we just know that we’re prepared. The tougher your schedule, the less chaotic state feels.”

Wichita is coming away with minor victories in recent years in hopes of chipping away at the brand Kansas City walks in with year after year. Although the Wichita area has three wins since 2013, all three have come in the past three state tournaments.

And when Bishop Carroll took the first set 25-19 over De Soto on Friday, it was the seventh set win in that time. Dorsey said if she was implanted at Carroll next year, the first thing she would do is find out the best way to play the hardest schedule.

“If you just beat up on everybody in your league or in your area, you don’t get better,” she said. “Challenge yourself because that’s how you will get better.”