McPHERSON — In order to prepare for the new postseason volleyball format, the McPherson and Hutchinson volleyball teams met on Thursday night to play one match in a best three out of five sets format.
Hutchinson will play in a sub-state of four teams, while McPherson will play in a sub-state with five. The winner of each sub-state will play one match — three out of five sets — against a fellow sub-state champion to qualify for state.
The state tournament will feature four teams instead of eight in order to help with social distancing.
Thursday night at the McPherson Roundhouse, the Bullpups defeated the Salthawks in straight sets 25-16, 25-17, 25-23.
Despite the loss, Hutchinson High head coach Maria Aikins was happy her girls were able to experience a best of five match.
"Today was a good opportunity, and I think the girls used it and we’re going to learn from it," Aikins said. "I think we were a little intimidated at first, but I’m proud of the girls for taking the challenge and pushing themselves. I thought it was pretty good volleyball."
McPherson head coach Christy Doile says she has very little familiarity with best of five matches, and she too was glad to get the experience.
"We wanted this match for experience, and I’m grateful Hutchinson accepted the offer, and I’m grateful we were able to make this work," Doile said.
McPherson junior Rhain Swanson, a 6-0 hitter who is committed to Kansas, dominated the match. She had 29 kills to lead the Bullpups, while Katie Berg — a 6-3 senior committed to Long Island University — finished with 19 kills.
"We knew coming in they’d set their outside hitters," Aikins said. "They’re big, they swing big, and I felt like if we could just put a good block on, we could do it. We needed to make adjustments, and we didn’t make them soon enough."
In the first set, McPherson jumped out to a 12-4 lead, then the Bullpups extended their lead to 17-8 before closing out the set.
Hutchinson fought back in the second set, and the Salthawks took their first lead of the night at 4-3. Tied at eight, McPherson went on a 7-3 run to force a Hutchinson timeout.
McPherson extended its lead to 20-15 and went on a 5-2 run to close out the second set.
The Bullpups jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the third, but Hutchinson closed the deficit to 15-12 to force McPherson to use its first timeout of the evening.
Up 18-13, Hutchinson called a timeout, and the Salthawks responded with a 5-3 run to force a McPherson timeout.
Tied at 23, McPherson won back to back points to win the closest set of the match.
"I was proud of the girls because they kept fighting and they didn’t let up," Aikins said. "I think there are moments where the biggest obstacles in front of us are us. I think we have to figure out how to not play timid, not play scared, and just play our game and have fun with it."
McPherson hosts an invitational on Saturday with eight teams in attendance. Hutchinson (16-7) is the No. 4 seed and will face Bishop Carroll (14-1), Nickerson (14-9), and Goddard (1-19) in pool play.
"This is a very tough tournament, and that’s why some teams were hesitant to play in it," Aikins said. "We need to go in with the mindset that we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves, we’re going to learn a lot about mental toughness, and we’re going to learn how to push through," Aikins said.
McPherson (22-2) will face Garden Plain (15-3), Garden City (10-9), and Pittsburg (8-9) in pool play.
"Everybody is going to try and be the No. 1 team there," Doile said. "We’ll see, it should be fun."