I witnessed something last night I had not in over 10 years.
The volleyball match between Phillipsburg and McCook went the full five sets. It is very rare to witness five-set high school volleyball matches in Kansas, simply because the chances for one to occur are not that common.
In any situation where there are more than two varsity teams present, or if two teams are playing more than one varsity match, all matches are only best-of-three. The lone exception to this rule is if two teams are playing a single match. Then and only then is it a best-of-five.
In western Kansas, best-of-five matches are almost unheard of. Travel distance between schools is great, and the idea is to bring multiple teams to one site so they can play two or three matches on weekdays and get them home. Many coaches probably believe it would be a waste of time to travel upwards of 100 miles and compete in only one varsity match. Best-of-five matches can be found in the Wichita and Kansas City metro areas, where schools do not have far to travel, and home-and-home season series are common.
By contrast, in Louisiana, all varsity matches are best-of-five, except in tournaments in order to keep them moving. Postseason matches are best-of-five, but in Louisiana, the postseason is one-and-done, and not every school qualifies like in Kansas, where all schools go to sub-state.
Teams in Nebraska also are used to five-set matches, especially in Lincoln and Omaha. The larger schools in Grand Island, Hastings and Kearney also play five-set matches against one another. Once you get west of North Platte, again, everyone is so far apart it’s not practical. North Platte is by far the largest school along and west of US 83, followed by McCook and Ogalalla, and then the next largest is Scottsbluff, way out in the panhandle near Wyoming.
McCook scored the last six points of the first set to win it, but Phillipsburg domianted the second and third stanzas, leaving the Panthers only one away from victory.
It looked like the fourth set would be it, Phillipsburg built a 5-1 lead, and after watching McCook come back to tie at 5-5, the Panthers scored teh next five, and they led by as many as seven at three different points, the last at 20-13. The Bison battled all the way back to a 23-23 tie, but a kill by the Panthers’ Sadie Rodriguez brought up match point.
McCook not only survived match point to forge a 24-24 tie, it scored the next two points, sending the match to the fifth set. The fifth set is played to 15 points, instead of 25.
The Bison took a 5-2 lead, only to see the Panthers come back to tie. McCook responded with four consecutive points, and continued to lead until two kills and an ace by Tatum Bartels–the second kill from the back row on a hard push–knotting it at 10-10.
McCook had two match points at 14-12. It wasted the first on a service error, and Rodriguez notched a kill on the second to send the final set into overtime. McCook gained a third match point following a service error by the Panthers,, but Rodriguez knotted it again with a kill.
This time, the Panthers gained the upper hand when Kollette Keeten served an ace, and following a long rally, Bartels tipped home the final point. Final tally: 18-25, 25-10, 25-15, 24-26, 17-15.
It was the first five set volleyball match I’ve watched since August 31, 2004,, when St. Joseph’s Academy, coached by my dear friend Brenda LeBlanc, defeated Mandeville. Those schools would play in the Louisiana Division I state championship match in November, with the Redstickers prevailing in straight sets for their fourth consecutive title.
The only match I’ve seen in Kansas to go farther than three sets was McCook’s four-set victory at Phillipsburg in 2012. The Panthers won a best of five in three sets at McCook last year.
It’s back to football tonight at Smith Center, where the 2-0 Redmen host the 0-2 TMP-Marian Monarchs. This is the first meeting between the schools since 2001,, when TMP won 38-29 at Hays. However, the district ended in a three-way tie between Smith Center, TMP and Phillipsburg at 2-1 (Russell was the fourth team in the district), and the Redmen earned the playoff berth–only district champions advanced to the playoffs at that time–based upon a better point differential. The next year, the KSHSAA changed the rules to take two teams from each district.
I’ll run up to Russell High tomorrow to shoot some of its volleyball round robin. Kansas City? I don’t know.