Last year, Blue Valley won the first set of the Kansas Class 6A championship volleyball match, but in the following two sets, the Tigers scored just 28 points total.
As a result, Blue Valley was runner-up in 2018 to Lawrence.
The loss was stunning, but it was the rallying cry for the Tigers in 2019. With four outstanding seniors on the roster, Blue Valley returned to the championship match and beat Washburn Rural 26-24, 25-21 on Saturday to win its first title in school history.
Blue Valley was pinned in the unquestioned tougher pool coming into the state tournament alongside semifinalist Blue Valley North and Garden City, which had only three losses on the season. Blue Valley tore through the pool as if it were a preseason tournament.
The Tigers opened its stay in Salina with a 25-17, 25-18 win over Blue Valley North. They allowed just 30 points to Lawrence Free State over two sets and ended Garden City’s chances of advancing with a 25-21, 31-29 victory.
After the win over Garden City, coach Dave Johnson said he was excited for what his 2019 group had in store the rest of the way.
“I love this group,” Johnson said. “They have kept me on my toes the whole year. We have worked on just about every situation you could think of in practice, so I feel like we were pretty calm.”
Blue Valley didn’t lose a set at the state tournament. Only Class 2A champion Wabaunsee did the same. The Tigers went undefeated over their final 18 sets of the season.
Johnson said his wife had his fourth child, a boy named Noah, on Monday. He said Noah was in attendance Saturday. With that and how his team was playing, he said he liked his chances.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” he said, not knowing of the history his team would soon make.
Aquinas wins 5A
If pool play and the first set of the championship match on Saturday in Class 5A were any indication, St. Thomas Aquinas was going to finish runner-up to St. James Academy for a third straight year.
St. James punched its way to a 25-10 win in the first set. Although Aquinas had an impressive win over Lansing in the semifinals, the first set showed shades of pool play when the Saints had their worst match of the season.
But Aquinas won the final two sets 25-19, 25-16 to capture its first state championship since 2014 and seventh in school history.
Aquinas had lost 25-19, 25-12 to St. James in pool play. The dozen points the Saints put up in the second set was their fewest in any 25-point set all season. St. James appeared poised for a third straight state championship. Then Aquinas kicked into gear.
The Saints dispatched Lansing, the Pool A winner, in the semifinals 25-23, 25-17. That set up another date with St. James, the Saints’ fourth and final of the season.
Aquinas finished its 2019 season 34-7 with only two regular-season losses to teams from Kansas: the Class 5A runner-up and Class 6A champion, Blue Valley.
The Saints went 9-2 against state qualifiers in the regular season, and they are the only champion to boast beating the Class 6A and 4A champions and 5A runner-up.