ALTAMONT — It’d been a decade since a new banner was mounted onto the walls in Harrison Gymnasium under the volleyball tab at Labette County.
A pressure-packed week that featured Senior Night, an SEK League Championship match and a home sub-state tournament will see two banners go up for 2020.
On Saturday, the Labette County Grizzlies swept both Coffeyville in the semifinals and Independence in the championship of its KSHSAA 4A Sub-State Tournament. The two wins, two days removed from securing a league title, punch the Grizzlies’ first ticket to the state tournament since 2010.
“It’s something you talk about at the beginning of the year,” Labette County head coach Heather Wilson said. “We wanted to win a league championship and give ourselves an opportunity to go to state. In this weird year, it’s poetic that we do it here.”
The Grizzlies survived a scrappy first set from Coffeyville in the semifinals before winning 2-0 (25-20, 25-5).
Then in the championship match against Independence — a rematch of Thursday’s league title match — the Grizzlies rallied in the first set before taking command in the second to win 2-0 (28-26, 25-16).
🏐🏆 LABETTE COUNTY IS HEADED TO STATE 🏐🏆Labette County sweeps Independence 2-0 (28-26, 25-16) in the Sub-State championship in Altamont to advance to the @KSHSAA 4A State Tournament.This is the first state berth for Labette County since 2010. pic.twitter.com/PtPeqx6qRH— Sean Frye (@SeanEFrye) October 24, 2020
“The Indy mystique has kept us at bay against them in the past,” Wilson said. “They’ve had our number over and over again for the last four to five years. But we finally got over that and realized we’re just as talented and capable. In the clutch, we pushed back instead of folding.”
Anna Dean led Labette County in both digs and kills in the championship match with 18 and eight respectively.
“A lot of us are role players that have to get the job done,” Dean said. “I feel like I had to go out there, get the job done and do my best not to make any silly mistakes.”
Lauren Forbes added five kills while Ashantae Smith had three for the Grizzlies. Shelbi Wilson had 19 assists while Claire Carnahan added 13 digs.
Saturday also saw the return of Madison Brannin, who’d been out for a large part of the season with a concussion, to the lineup. Brannin came off the bench and her role for the state tournament is yet to be determined.
“She’s a wonderful lift for me and she really releases pressure off Anna in the middle,” Wilson said. “She’ll get to play and find her way into the lineup.”
In her fifth season as head coach of the Grizzlies, Wilson said what pushed Labette County over the threshold to a state berth was playing fast and loose.
“We’ve decided that playing tight and playing nervous is what had been holding us back,” Wilson said. “We can play with anybody if we’re flowing and rolling. We have a lot of fun in practice and we carried that over into the ballgame.
“It’s a special year with a special group of kids. We’re just going to keep taking it a day at a time. We’ll continue to do what we do which is play hard and for each other.”
KSHSAA has restructured its state tournament this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of pool play with eight teams, the tournament will feature a first round, best 3-of-5 dual hosted by the winner of even-numbered sub-states on Tuesday. The winners of those duals then advance to Hutchinson on Saturday for semifinal and championship matches.
Labette County hosted Sub-State No. 8 and will host the winner of Sub-State No. 7, Ottawa, on Tuesday in the first round of the state tournament. The Grizzlies are 25-8 overall while Ottawa is 22-13.
In a year where the pandemic has cast shadows of uncertainty and fear across athletics in the state, it was COVID that manufactured one of the most historic weeks for Labette County. The Grizzlies didn't escape the season unscathed as two players, including starting libero Ava Alloway, are currently quarantined.
Thursday’s league title win at Independence was part of a rescheduled set of matches the Bulldogs made up after being quarantined. On Tuesday, the Grizzlies will get to play a state tournament match in front of a home crowd.
“You dream about opportunities like this when you start a season,” Wilson said. “You dream of a week like this when you have a team like this. For all these things to line up like this was a perfect storm. Maybe not so much for our competition. But we believed in each other and that’s what’s exciting.”
Parsons sees season end with loss in semifinals
The Parsons Vikings fell to Independence 2-0 (25-15, 25-14) in the semifinals of Saturday’s sub-state in Altamont.
Parsons had beaten Independence in the final night of the regular season in Altamont earlier in the week, lending hope to a potential upset.
“We knew they would come out aggressive,” Parsons head coach Brooke Hopper said. “They obviously wanted some revenge. We made some changes this week in our defense this week, but we never got into a rhythm like we did on Tuesday.”
With the loss, Parsons’ season ends with a 9-25 record. The nine wins were a vast improvement over the previous year, when the Vikings won just one match.
Parsons took second place at the Neodesha Tournament last weekend before upsetting Independence on Tuesday, giving the Vikings some momentum heading into the offseason.
“I would love to say it was something we did as coaches,” Hopper said, “but it wasn’t. It was 100% these girls. Coming off a one-win season, it would’ve been easy to just get through. But they put in the work.”