By CONOR NICHOLL
Smoky Valley enjoyed the best volleyball season in school history in 2020 with a Class 3A runner-up showing. It’s possible the Vikings could top that threshold this year behind key returning seniors Abby Rose and Madi Tolle, both who have earned first team all-state honors in at least two sports and been previously recognized by SIK. Rose has set the school’s single season kill mark.
However, SV has several players starting for the first time, including sophomores Hope Duncan and Adrian Hazelwood. Plus, senior defensive players Avery Vanderwege and Aubrey Boldra have delivered nice seasons.
“Avery passes the ball well and is a defensive court leader for us for sure,” coach Sharlene Ramsey said. “She is kind and very helpful for our younger players learning our defensive coverage and has taken that role very seriously.”
Neither Duncan nor Hazelwood played varsity last fall. SV graduated 97 percent of its assists, 60 percent of its digs and 47 percent of its serve-receptions.
Several Vikings signed to play in college. Bri Franklin committed to Kansas Wesleyan volleyball, Addie Heitschmidt to McPherson College volleyball, McKinley Johnson to Hutchinson Community College volleyball and Belle Peters to Pittsburg State track.
The new combination has helped Smoky Valley show a strong improvement in digging and ball control, multiple wins against state tournament-qualifying teams, and a unit that could yield SV’s first-ever state volleyball title this weekend.
Duncan paces Smoky Valley with 281 digs, and Hazelwood has 836 assists, which has been top-10 in Kansas. Senior Laini Haigh, who saw very limited varsity playing time previously, has 68 digs on the right side. Senior defensive specialist Chloe Patrick has emerged with 106 digs in her first season of varsity action.
Hazelwood was the JV setter in 2020, and then served as the starting point guard for varsity basketball. She has attended several elite summer basketball camps. She helped SV to a plus-seven win improvement in basketball last winter.
“She’s a natural court leader and is steady, confident, and level headed,” Ramsey said. “She is obviously very athletic and has developed into a very solid setter for us this season.”
Ramsey called Duncan a “very strong” JV player last season, though was behind the large group of seniors. In Ramsey’s eyes, Duncan expediated her progress through Shockwave, a well-known club volleyball program in the Wichita area that had a big season last year. Entering the fall, Duncan was considered a breakout sophomore candidate.
“Hope is having an incredible year,” Ramsey said. “Her back row play has probably been the biggest area we’ve seen growth in. She reads the ball well and understands the game at a high level. She can hit the ball in different areas of the court and has been a great addition.”
Overall, SV has 16.2 digs per set, which is a significant increase from 15.3 digs per set in 2020. SV has been successful on 92 percent of serve-receptions, up from 89 percent in 2020.
On Friday, Smoky Valley (37-3) opens the Class 3A state tournament at nearby Hutchinson Sports Arena. Class 3A is considered the deepest of all the classifications with all eight teams as contenders. In the 3A coaches poll, Cheney is ranked first, Smoky Valley second.
Smoky Valley is ranked first in Class 3A by MaxPreps statistical rankings, which also accounts strength of schedule, a measurement that Ramsey closely follows. Of the eight 3A state squads, Smoky Valley also played the hardest SOS.
Smoky Valley has won 18 straight matches. The Vikings are also 18-0 in true road matches. SIK has documented the massive turnaround of the Vikings under Ramsey. Smoky Valley won one match then 15-23, 24-15, 34-4 and 37-3 the last four seasons. Ramsey recently picked up her 100th career win. Before last year, SV had not made state since 1986.
Smoky Valley has quality wins versus Hillsboro (twice), Nickerson (three times), Thomas More Prep-Marian, Beloit, Circle, Ellinwood, Central Plains and Trinity Academy. All those teams played in at least a sub-state championship game.
Hillsboro, Beloit, Circle, Ellinwood and Central Plains qualified for state. Smoky Valley went 8-1 in the CKL in conference-only matches and was second to Hillsboro.
Smoky Valley has been highly dominant defensively in several of its key victories. Nickerson, Hillsboro, Beloit, Central Plains and Ellinwood each hit between .173 and .267 this year.
On Aug. 28, Smoky Valley hit Nickerson to minus .086 hitting, the Panthers’ lowest this season.
On Sept. 11, Beloit hit .064 versus the Vikings. That is still the lowest for the Trojans this fall.
On the same day, Hillsboro hit .017, which is also the Trojans’ worst hitting percentage this season. Ellinwood hit .042 on Sept. 16, the team’s second-lowest mark this fall. Central Plains hit .129, one of its lowest marks.
In sub-state, Smoky Valley beat Hesston 25-13, 25-27, 25-21. In the final, SV beat Trinity Academy 25-22, 25-17. In the second set, SV trailed Hesston 20-13. In the second set versus Trinity, Smoky Valley trailed 15-12.
“We coaches felt like previous close games this season really helped prepare our girls to handle this type of pressure,” Ramsey said. “Our CKL league is a beast because it has so many strong volleyball programs (Nickerson, Hillsboro, Hesston), but it also helps us handle games like these. We also feel like since our seniors had the state experience last year, they were determined to return to Hutch this year.”
This season, Smoky Valley has averaged kills on 38.5 percent of swings and carries a .240 hitting percentage. This is very comparable to last year’s numbers of kills on 40 percent of swings and a .248 average.
Overall, Tolle has 243 kills on a 45.3 percent rate with a .345 average. Last season, Tolle had 99 kills on a 35.2 percent rate and .238 average. Tolle, also all-state in wrestling and softball, is looking to possibly play college softball.
The reigning 3A Player of the Year, Rose has continued her dominance with 342 kills and a .369 average. Last year, Rose carried 316 kills and a .378 average. Rose was a key member of the Smoky Valley track team that dominated en route to a 3A state title. Rose was the only all-conference volleyball player back for Smoky Valley.
“(Rose is) phenomenal and you are going to pay for mistakes,” Ellinwood coach Greg Maxwell told SIK earlier this fall. “Against a good team, you make a mistake, you give up a point. Against a great team like that, you make a mistake like that, you give up two or three back-to-back, and that’s where the difference happens.”
Duncan has stepped in with 239 kills. She has averaged kills on 37.4 percent of swings and carries a .194 average. Plus, Rose is first with 44 aces, Duncan second at 40, and Vanderwege has 34.
Tolle is among the state’s leaders in blocks with 92, Rose has 57 and freshman Katja Blanchat has 41.
Rose, Duncan, Vanderwege and Boldra all have between 177 and 273 receptions.
“We couldn’t be happier with what Adrian has done,” Ramsey said. “With our offense, it was important we had a setter who could run a variety of sets, and Adrian can definitely do that.”