CHETOPA — Coming off a 34-win season that fell one match shy of a berth to the 1A state tournament, the Chetopa Green Hornets’ window for another run is still wide open in 2019.
The Green Hornets finished 34-5 last season, which ended in the sub-state tournament with a loss to Olpe.
“We had a great year last year,” Chetopa head coach Jill Blackledge said. “I’m not sure any Chetopa team has gone that far, ever. But we still have to take it one game at a time. We want to get back to that point where we have every opportunity to make it to the state tournament.”
Heading into this fall, the Kansas Volleyball Association ranked Chetopa No. 5 in the state in 1A, which sets the bar high for a team that will replace three starters.
“It was shocking to get that news,” Blackledge said. “Especially since we didn’t go to the state tournament. We’ve got three girls jumping into the rotation this year that haven’t seen a lot of playing time.”
While Chetopa has to replace half of its starting rotation, the Green Hornets return the Three Rivers League kill leader last year in senior Samantha Blundell.
As a junior, Blundell tallied 418 kills, averaging out to 4.7 kills per set, along with 127 blocks (1.4 per set).
“She’s going to be big for us,” Blackledge said. “She led the league in kills and was 16th in the state 1A through 6A. She’s still coming off shoulder surgery in the spring and just got released, so she’s getting her power back. But she’s still going to be a big player for us.”
Complementing Chetopa’s frontline is junior Brali Conard. Last season, Conard racked up 159 kills and was second with 41 aces.
“She can hit the ball hard,” Blackledge said. “Her blocking needs some work, but she’s really coming along. She’s our best server and one of our best passers.”
The one-two combination of Blundell and Conard will keep opponents’ blockers guessing.
“Sam and Brali are our go-to hitters,” Blackledge said. “I want at least one of them on the front row at all times because they know how to go get a ball.”
Facilitating the offense is senior setter Torrie Albertson. The Green Hornets run a 5-1 base offense, meaning Albertson will stay on the floor through all six rotations. As a junior, Albertson averaged 6.1 assists per set and totaled 542 on the year.
“She’s one of my better passers,” Blackledge said. “She doesn’t get to serve receive a lot because we don’t want her taking that first pass. But she’s also got to be a blocker at times. She does very well at letting the younger kids know where to be in our coverage. We’re working on more elaborate sets this year and she’s a big part of that.”
Junior Amber Ross is the only other upperclassman on Chetopa’s roster, with the other five players being either freshmen or sophomores.
“We have some big spots to fill,” Blackledge said. “Next year we’ll have to rebuild with Sam and Torrie being gone. So the younger girls are going to have to step up.”
Expectations for Chetopa are unquestionably the highest they’ve ever been in school history. It starts with hoping to reclaim the Three Rivers League title from rival Oswego then advancing to the state tournament.
“It comes down to communication right now,” Blackledge said. “Our younger girls are a little timid right now. But I think once we get into the games and get adjusted, we’ll do pretty well. We just have to take it one game at a time.”