A decade of dominance as Lady Buffs capture 10th straight WAC volleyball title

VOLLEYBALL: Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020

When the 2020 volleyball season served up its first matches in early September, little did anyone know just how competitive the Western Athletic Conference would be between 9-time defending league champion Garden City, and improved teams from Hays, Great Bend, Dodge City and Liberal.

On Saturday, at Great Bend’s gymnasium, that overall balance and competitiveness could not have been more evident.

But one thing didn’t change – and that was the eventual team champion.

The victorious Garden City Lady Buffs volleyball team after capturing the school’s 10th consecutive WAC Championship Saturday. (Photo courtesy Hugo Gonzalez, Great Bend Tribune)

The Lady Buffaloes walked off the Panther floor with another 4-0 mark and a 10th consecutive WAC title. In the league’s 37 years of existence no other team has won more than four consecutive, the last being Liberal from 2005 to 2008.

This one, though, was far from certain and far from easy as the Lady Buffs had to rally from a set down in their first two matches of the day. They lost opening sets to Dodge City in their opening match and then did the same against Liberal in match 2.

First, against their biggest rival in the Lady Red Demons, the Lady Buffs dropped the opening set 22-25 but came back with wins of 25-20, 25-22 to take the all-important first match triumph. The win was even more satisfying since the Lady Buffs had dropped a straight set match at home earlier this month to Dodge City after winning a hard-fought 3-set match back in September.

Coach Trista Bailey’s squad then faced Liberal, a team they had just defeated last in a best 3-of-5 match by a 3-1 count. The Lady Redskins made it a tough start by dropping the Buffs 25-23 only to have Garden once again rally with wins of 25-19, 25-21 to take that match.

Match 3 was against the Hays Lady Indians, a team that had ended a 34-match WAC winning streak by the Buffs earlier in the campaign. This was all Garden as the Buffs won the opening set 25-22 and then dominated the second by a 25-10 count.

That left the final match of the day as the deciding championship match as Great Bend had won its three earlier matches as well.

The Lady Buffs claimed the opening set 25-16 only to drop a nail-biter 24-26 decision in the second before taking the third and deciding set, 25-22.

Saturday’s title had perhaps an extra sweet taste as it likely was one of the most competitive crowns captured by the Buffs in the last half decade. Consider they lost 6 seniors to graduation, all of whom are playing college volleyball this year, and a team that won 33 matches a year ago.

Senior Abby Ellerman launches a kill in one of the WAC Championship matches on Saturday in Great Bend. (Photo by Hugo Gonzalez, Great Bend Tribune)

Bailey had just a half-handful of returning players with a lot of varsity experience. Over the past couple of weeks she had to re-shuffle her lineup with senior outside hitter Julie Calzonetti sidelined with illness.

“We’ve implemented a new system and a new defense all over the last 10 days and I thought our kids executed it well today,” Bailey said afterward.

With an almost entirely new lineup, then winning a 10th consecutive WAC title, made the current season even more memorable for Bailey.

“This group of seniors will always hold a special place in my heart,” she said. “They were freshmen my first year and to see their hard work and dedication be rewarded makes me so happy for them.”

Bailey knew that Saturday would not be a picnic or a cakewalk, and it wasn’t.

“We battled hard today,” she said. “WAC volleyball is very well rounded this year which makes this title even more special. Teams took some sets from us and we proved our resiliency more than once today.”

Garden City’s Julie Calzonetti (5) returns a shot against Great Bend Saturday as Abby Parr (4) looks on in what proved to be the championship match of the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Great Bend. (Photo courtesy Hugo Gonzalez, Great Bend Tribune)

The decade of dominance has come under a variety of coaches and in some cases changes in coaches during a season on at least two different occasions.

“Winning at anything is tough,” Bailey said, “but to do it consistently for the last decade says so much about this program and all of the players and coaches who have come before us. We are so grateful to have had the way paved for us and for these kids to continue the tradition makes me so proud and so hopeful for Garden City volleyball.

On the statistical side of things Saturday, McKenna Jagels and Melody Flores shared the top spot in service aces with 8. Calzonetti topped the kills category with 40 while Abby Ellerman was right behind with 39. Flores and Jagels added 25 and 22, respectively. Mya Cruz finished the day with 120 assists. Calzonetti paced the digs category with 56 while Abby Parr and Flores had 44 each, Cruz 42 and Jagels 38.

The four wins improved the Buffs’ season record to 17-13 and they now await bracket pairings for next Saturday’s Class 6A regional that will include WAC foes Dodge City and Liberal, as well as Hutchinson.

With the only loss to the Buffs, host Great Bend captured runner-up honors while Dodge City, Liberal and Hays each went 1-3 with the Demons taking third based upon game percentages won with Liberal fourth and Hays fifth.

Historical note: Saturday’s championship was the school’s 13th recorded WAC title, with previous titles before 2011 coming in 1991, 1999 and 2004. Several years of WAC records have not been available since the league was formed in 1984.

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