HUTCHINSON — When Sabetha and Smoky Valley each booked their tickets to the Class 3A state volleyball championship match on Saturday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, it was guaranteed someone would be winning their first state championship in program history.
After Sabetha won the first set, Smoky Valley battled back to win the second. With a state championship on the line, Sabetha edged Smoky Valley in the third for a 25-19, 25-27, 25-23 win.
The Vikings were closer to a state championship than they had ever been before, and while it was disappointing to fall in three sets in the championship, Smoky Valley had an unforgettable season.
"We told the girls in the beginning that every opportunity we had to be on the court, we had to celebrate and be thankful for it," Smoky Valley head coach Sharlene Ramsey said. "Our school has not had a single team or class in quarantine. Our community knew what we had and wanted to ‘Protect the Valley’ is the slogan they came up with, and I think they did that."
Sabetha won the first set and maintained about a five-point lead throughout. The Vikings fought back in the second set and were able to win back-to-back points tied at 25.
The Vikings jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the deciding third set, but Sabetha responded with a 5-1 run.
Smoky Valley led 20-17 and forced a Sabetha timeout, but the Bluejays stormed back to tie the set at 21.
The Bluejays ended the match on a 4-2 run to win their first state title.
"Our girls didn’t care if we ended up on the short end, we were going to go out swinging," Ramsey said. "We were going to swing at every ball, and if it went out of bounds or into the net, so be it, but we were going to swing."
As thrilling as the championship match was, Smoky Valley’s semifinal victory over West Franklin was just as exciting.
Smoky Valley lost the first set 25-23, then rebounded with a 25-23 win of their own. In the deciding third set, Smoky Valley never trailed, completed the comeback, and won 25-21.
"I told the girls we had been there and done this before," Ramsey said. "We know how to rise and finish."
Smoky Valley, who finishes the year 34-4, went 2-1 in pool play with wins over West Franklin (25-20, 25-20) and Goodland (25-21, 22-25, 25-20) and a loss to Sabetha (25-23, 25-16).
The Vikings graduate a strong senior class of six: Elyse Ramsey, Addie Heitschmidt, McKinley Johnson, Bri Franklin, Kerington Haxton and Isabelle Peters.
"Their freshman year they were 1-35," Ramsey said. "Each year we’ve gotten better, and better, and better. During summer workouts we knew we had something special. About the third week of the season, we knew something we had something really special.
"They’re a good group of girls, they’re smart academically, and they come from good families."