On to the 6A state final 4! Lady Buffs rally past Derby in quarterfinal marathon match

VOLLEYBALL: Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020

In an improbable finish to an improbable run to an improbable season during an improbable year, leave it to the Garden City Lady Buffaloes volleyball team to do something that many thought improbable, but certainly will be memorable.

Tuesday night, traveling to favored Derby in the Class 6A state quarterfinals with a revised tournament format, the Lady Buffs rallied from a 2-set deficit to shock the Lady Panthers in a five-set battle to reach Friday’s state semifinals in Salina.

The victory by scores of 22-25, 15-25, 25-17, 25-11, 15-11, improves the Lady Buffs’ season record to 20-13. It was the ninth consecutive match win for coach Trista Bailey’s squad, and comes after her team had struggled early in the season, at one point standing at 1-5.

“We put ourselves in a position to win the opening set against Derby,” Bailey said. “Considering how slow to start we can be at times, I was encouraged by our competitiveness in set 1.”

But things didn’t go well again for the Lady Buffs in the second set, and found themselves on the brink of elimination in the best 3-of-5 set match.

“In set 2, Derby completely took us out of our game,” Bailey stated. “Everything that could go wrong did. We lacked confidence and urgency and made way too many errors.”

So Bailey, who has been masterful at times in finding the right combinations this season with a sometimes shortened roster, re-evaluated the game plan for set 3.

“We had to capitalize on our strengths and not try to out-swing Derby,” Bailey said. “They have heavy arms on both pins, but our middles are both capable of scoring, too. So we decided to work inside out on offense and get our middles activated early in hopes that we could free up our outsides. When it worked, we never looked back.”

That decisive change of strategy led to the Buffs breaking through with a 25-17 victory and kept the momentum going with a dominating effort in Set 4 with a 25-11 thrashing.

In the fifth and deciding set, playing only to 15 points (must win by 2 points), the Lady Buffs jumped out to an 8-4 early lead and then pretty much traded points the rest of the way to finish out with the 15-11 triumph.

“The pure grit this team showed tonight is something to be commended,” Bailey said. “They could have easily quit and called it good enough, but they didn’t. They believed, they fought, and they persevered.”

It was the third time this season these teams had met, with Derby winning early in the campaign at the Valley Center Tournament and Garden City taking the Panthers three weeks later at the Maize Invitational. Derby finishes its season at 22-12.

Match statistics will bear out that the Lady Buffs got contributions from a wide variety of players in different categories. Julie Calzonetti, Melody Flores and Abby Ellerman paced the team in kills with 16, 12 and 9, respectively. Flores and McKenna Jagels had 2 blocks apiece. Mya Cruz led the way with 43 assists. Abby Parr and Flores were tops in digs with 26 and 20, respectively, while Jagels and Calzonetti added 14 and 12. Overall, the team served at a pace of 89.2 percent.

In reaching the semifinals on Friday, the Lady Buffs will be just the second GCHS team to advance that far, matching the 1997 team’s accomplishment when it finished fourth. This marks the sixth consecutive trip to the state tournament, but the first time in the final four with the revised format.

Friday’s format calls for a Pool Play of all 4 teams playing each other. Then, the teams will be seeded 1 through 4 for the semifinals, with 1 facing 4 and 2 taking on 3. The two winners will meet in the championship game and the losers in the third-place consolation match-up.

Action begins at 10:45 a.m. at Salina’s Tony’s Pizza Events Center. The Lady Buffs are the No. 4 seed at 20-13. Olathe Northwest is seeded No. 1 at 27-0 while Topeka-Washburn Rural is the No. 2 seed at 32-4. Blue Valley West is the No. 3 seed with a 22-7 record.

The schedule is as follows in Pool Play: 10:45 a.m., Olathe NW vs. Topeka-Washburn Rural; Blue Valley-West vs. Garden City; 11:45 a.m., Olathe NW vs. Blue Valley-West; Topeka-Washburn Rural vs. Garden City; 12:45 p.m., Olathe NW vs. Garden City; Topeka-Washburn Rural vs. Blue Valley-West.

Semifinals will be played on two courts at 3 p.m. with championship and consolation matches to follow.

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