It’s not where it wants to be yet, but the Blue Springs volleyball team is making progress.
That was evident Saturday in the MO-KAN Challenge as the Wildcats went 2-2 and qualified for the championship bracket in a loaded field at Lee’s Summit West High School.
“We were pleased with our day as a whole,” Blue Springs coach Katie Grusing said after her squad fell in a three-set thriller to St. Thomas Aquinas, in the quarterfinals. “We have played well in areas each match this season, but we haven’t put together an entire match. There’s always been something that’s been shaky in our play, but for the most part, I thought we were solid in all areas all day.”
The Wildcats faced opponents only from Kansas in the tournament, beating Bishop Miege (25-21, 25-20) and Shawnee Mission Northwest (25-17, 25-23) in pool play while losing to Olathe Northwest (26-24, 25-13).
Two weeks after being swept on the road at St. Thomas Aquinas, Blue Springs won the first set 25-23 and gave the Saints all they wanted before falling by identical 25-20 scores in the final two.
“That was a statement match for us as we wanted to prove to ourselves that we’ve gotten better over the course of the last few weeks,” Grusing said. “We’re obviously disappointed to lose, but Aquinas is really good and has so much firepower up front.”
Hannah Vanriette had 24 kills and Niya Harris knocked down 22 shots to lead the Wildcats (5-5) in the tournament, with setter Caroline Foster recording 11 kills and 67 assists.
“Our girls did a great job,” Grusing said. “In a tournament, you have an opportunity to work through some things in a way that you don’t in a one-match night. Even in the course of the day you can see improvement, but definitely from the beginning of the season. We felt like we played stronger in our matches (Saturday) than all of our previous matches.”
Despite Blue Springs South suffering its first losses of the season, Jaguars coach Dave MacLean also had some strong takeaways from the tournament.
South finished the day 2-3, bowing out to Lawrence Free State in the consolation semifinals.
“Tournaments like this with this amount of good teams where you play all day expose our weaknesses,” MacLean said. “When you see your players broken down with fatigue and broken down losing a close set and winning a close set, it really exposes the things that we need to work on.”
The Jaguars (14-3) beat St. Teresa’s (25-15, 25-19) and lost to Blue Valley (25-18, 25-22) and St. Thomas Aquinas (25-27, 26-24, 24-26) in pool play, then routed Kansas City (Kan.) Schlagle (25-8, 25-12) in bracket play before falling in a highly competitive three-set match to the Firebirds (25-23, 22-25, 21-25).
“We’re disappointed," MacLean said. "We had higher expectations of ourselves for executing, but at the same time we needed to play these high-quality teams. We were right there in a lot of the matches. We finished third in our pool, but we had match point against Aquinas who won our pool. … There’s no easy outs here. The margin of error is so slim. The team that wins it, all the way down to us, we’re very close together.”
Hannah LaPour had 35 kills, Katie Sparks added 25 kills and Rylie Gregston and Mandy Main teamed up for 126 assists to pace the Jaguars offense.
Meaunna Booth recorded nine blocks and Ellie Hermanson made 57 digs to lead the South defense.
“Even though we’re disappointed with (Saturday), it’s not a failure because we know what we need to continue to work on and teach,” MacLean said.