DODGE CITY — An injury to star outside hitter Brali Conard left Chetopa shorthanded in the KSHSAA 1A State Tournament as the second-seeded Green Hornets went 0-3 in pool play, ending their season.
Chetopa lost its first match to Central Plains 2-0 (25-11, 25-13). Samantha Blundell had seven kills in the match while Conard added five. Blundell also had three blocks, while Torrie Albertson had 10 assists.
“The girls walked in and I think they were still overwhelmed,” Chetopa head coach Jill Blackledge said. “You could tell the atmosphere and the nerves got the best of them.”
Central Plains also honed in on Blundell as its frontline put up a formidable block to keep Chetopa’s top offensive threat from beating them.
“They put the block on Sam,” Blackledge said. “She couldn’t do anything around them. We played better in the second set but it was just too late. We would’ve lost at regionals if that was the team that showed up then.”
Conard rolled her ankle in the Green Hornets’ second match, a 2-0 (25-19, 25-11) loss to the Clifton-Clyde Eagles.
Chetopa traveled to Dodge City with just six players, meaning no substitutes could reinforce the loss of Conard.
The Green Hornets played some of the match with five players on the floor before Conard could return. Even when Conard stepped back on the floor, her role was essentially limited to standing on the sideline.
“We ended up just pulling her off the court,” Blackledge said. “We tried to cover the back row as best we could. There was a time where we only had one person back there and we had to really adjust.”
Blundell finished the match with 10 kills while Andie Johnson added three.
“They did well in that first set,” Blackledge said. “We were down by as much as 10 and they kept fighting. But in the second set, Brali was able to play just so we could have her in there to serve.”
Chetopa’s first-ever trip to the state tournament in school history ended with a 2-0 (25-19, 25-16) loss to Cunningham.
Conard played in the match but was again severely limited.
“I just didn’t want her to hurt it worse,” Blackledge said. “She couldn’t jump. She could barely walk. She was devastated and the rest of the team was upset too.”
Chetopa’s season ends with a 38-8 overall record with a Three Rivers League, regional and sub-state title to its name.
“I’m glad they had the experience,” Blackledge said. “A lot of kids never make it this far. We might’ve lost three games, but we’re still one of the top eight teams in 1A out of over 100 teams. People back home realize that.”
The Green Hornets lose two star players to graduation as Blundell and Albertson will move on after illustrious four-year careers.
“Starting as freshmen, they were timid and scared,” Blackledge said. “But they’ve had a hell of a run over four years. Each year, they’ve improved. Every player has improved because of those two and our records have gotten better. We’re going to miss them next year.”
Conard is expected to return next season as Chetopa looks to remain competitive with six returning players.
“Things will be tougher, but I have some girls that can step up and fill shoes,” Blackledge said. “We have a lot of work to do in the offseason. We’ve got to get the girls’ confidence up. I think we’ll be fine.”