TOWANDA – The McPherson Bullpup volleyball team was on a mission.
After failing to qualify for state with a talented group in the past couple of years, the 2020 edition wasn’t going to let anything or anyone get in their way. And they showcased that dominance at the Class 4A sub-state tournament at Circle High School with a pair of decisive wins to capture a state quarterfinal berth.
First, the Bullpups awaited the winner of the play-in match between No. 4 seed Rose Hill and No. 5 seed El Dorado. The Rockets came away with a 2-0 victory over the Wildcats to advance and meet the Bullpups.
Mac got off to a good start, building a 13-7 lead. The Bullpups dug well and got their star hitter Rhian Swanson involved, which is generally bad news at all times for the opposition.
Rose Hill showed some fight, getting as close as 17-13, but the Bullpups went on a 6-0 run from there and coasted to a 25-16 first-set victory.
"We dig well and we’ve been working really hard at converting off of the dig," McPherson head coach Christy Doile said. "We don’t block a lot of balls, we’re trying to get positive touches, try to dig it and then finish it."
Rose Hill scored the first two points of the second set, but that would be the only time they enjoyed a lead in the match. The Bullpups scored four straight to go in front, and from there, they steadily pulled away and finished strong with the final four points to win 25-10 and take the match 2-0.
McPherson then watched as host Circle came from behind to eliminate Augusta in three sets. In order to advance to state, the Bullpups needed to beat the Thunderbirds for a third time this season. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.
A rotation error and a couple of Circle kills got them out to a 4-2 lead and then McPherson got going. They especially got good play from libero Taylor Casebeer, who seemed to be in the right spot in the back every time to dig a Circle kill attempt. Over time, the ability to do that wore the hosts down. McPherson led 10-8 and then went on a 15-4 run to claim an easy 25-12 first set win.
It was more of the same in the second set as the Bullpups jumped ahead 7-2, Circle got as close as 8-6 before McPherson once again made play after play and they pulled away to win 25-14 and claiming that sub-state championship with a 2-0 match victory.
The Bullpups improved to 32-3 and will next take on Clay Center, who won their sub-state tournament handily on Saturday. The Tigers will host that match next Tuesday, and it will be a best 3 out of 5 match.
"I guess we have one practice," Doile said with a chuckle. "We’re trying to get our rotations figured out, but we have some time."
One thing is for sure, if the Bullpups play at the level they did at Circle on Saturday, they will give themselves a great opportunity to advance to the state finals.