ALTAMONT — Labette County’s thrilling run to the KSHSAA 4A State Championship came to an end with a 3-0 (25-5, 25-11, 25-19) loss to Ottawa in the first round, best-of-five dual in Altamont on Tuesday evening.

Ottawa set the tone from the first serve, scoring the first 14 points of the first set.

“They’re super efficient. When they get on a roll, they’re a dynamic offense that’s passing well and the setter puts the ball right where it needs to be,” Labette County head coach Heather Wilson said. “They had a lot of threats. Anywhere they put the ball, they could put it down.” 

Anna Dean led the Grizzlies with 18 digs and five kills while also adding three blocks and an ace to her night’s tally.

“We didn’t get her the ball very well early,” Wilson said. “We couldn’t get her off the back row for 15 points to start the night. Maybe that’s a stupid decision on my part. We couldn’t side-out and that put her and our team out of rhythm.” 

Lauren Forbes added nine digs and four kills. Claire Carnahan had 11 digs while setter Shelbi Wilson had 14 assists and three blocks.

While Ottawa dominated most of the night, the Grizzlies kept the third set close.

“We gave them a good little scare in third set,” Wilson said. “We missed some key serves, but we had them worried about having to play a fourth. We didn’t lay down.” 

The loss ended a stretch that saw the Grizzlies playing their best ball of the year. In a five-day stretch last week, Labette County won both matches on Senior Night, secured the SEK League title with a win over Independence then swept both matches at a home sub-state to punch its ticket to state.

“In volleyball, you want to be playing well at the right time of the year,” Wilson said. “Every season has peaks and valleys. We played terribly three weeks ago and didn’t have a lot of life. We had a good meeting and fixed some problems. So there’s a lot to say about how we played at the end of the season.” 

Labette County’s SEK League title was the first for the school since 2004, while the state tournament berth was the first since 2010. Wilson felt those accomplishments are amplified given the state of high school athletics in 2020, where the COVID-19 pandemic has sewn constant uncertainty.

“We had a shared goal,” Wilson said. “The whole month of June, our kids worked so hard with no promise of anything. I remember listening to our KSHSAA board thinking we may not get a season. Our kids had been sweating their butts off with no promise. So this season is a tribute to the quality of our leadership and our two seniors, Paige Shomber and Claire Carnahan, who committed themselves to winning a league title.” 

The Grizzlies’ final record on the season stands at 25-9. Ottawa will advance to the semifinals of the KSHSAA 4A state tournament in Hutchinson on Friday.

Labette County returns a strong corps of talent next season, including Dean, Madison Brannin, Karsyn Stewart and Shelbi Wilson, that should have the Grizzlies eyeing back-to-back league titles. But closing the gap on teams like Ottawa is a priority for Wilson this offseason.

“You’ve got to play quality teams to battle with them and get to that level,” Wilson said. “We need to remind ourselves of the taste we have in our mouths. We have to spend time in the gym and get kids playing in the summer. We’ll go back to work and start with another group of kids that will make a pact. We’ll reflect on our successes and not rest with them.” 

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