The past three volleyball seasons have been tough at Kapaun Mount Carmel. After a 10-year span in which Kapaun advanced to the Class 5A tournament every season, the Crusaders failed to advance the past three seasons.
Last year was especially difficult as the Crusaders finished below .500, coach Terri Hessman's first losing season at Kapaun.
So during this season, Hessman tried to motivate her players by bringing out every 5A tourney memento she could think of. The memento she focused on most this week was a plain brown envelope with a label that said "5A state qualifier."
"We've had this packet there all week, just to fire them up," Hessman said. "I told them, 'I just want one of these.' "
Kapaun got it Saturday by defeating previously unbeaten Andover Central 25-19, 22-25, 25-22 at Bishop Carroll to advance to the Class 5A tournament at Topeka's Kansas Expocentre starting Friday.
Carroll (30-9) also advanced, beating Liberal 25-16, 25-16 in the final of the other bracket.
"You don't get used to it; it's special every year," Hessman said of going to the 5A tournament. "You want it so much more, though, when you haven't had it for a while. Everybody got that feeling today."
Kapaun (24-13) has had an up-and-down season, losing to Heights on Tuesday to fall to the No. 4 seed and into the bracket with Andover Central (39-1).
But after getting by Andover, Kapaun played well against Andover Central in a match that had 22 ties and 13 lead changes.
Kapaun won the first game by starting quickly and did the same in the third game. After trailing 14-12, the Crusaders scored seven straight for a lead it didn't lose. Senior Chelsea Helena ended the match with a kill.
"I told my setter, 'give me the ball. I want to put this away,' " Helena said. "I felt it come to me, it's now or never. I hit it and I just got so excited."
It was devastating for Andover Central, though, to have its first loss be in the sub-state final.
"It's been a fantastic year," said Andover Central coach Kelly Cook, as she fought back tears. "... To have this be the last loss of the season, it's just so hard."
Carroll cruises into 5A tourney — Carroll wasn't pleased with how it ended the regular season with a loss to Northwest. Coach Rita Mernagh got the Eagles back on track by returning to the basics.
"We had a meeting and we talked about where we need to go from there," she said. "We needed to start again from the very beginning, we went back to the things we worked on at the beginning of the year with passing and our confidence."
Carroll played nearly flawless volleyball on Saturday. The passes and sets were crisp and the hitters were on.
"There wasn't a hitter that I wasn't comfortable with the ball going to," Mernagh said.
In the championship against Liberal, senior Danika Maggard had five kills, while Nicole Walden had three.
"I thought we passed really well," Mernagh said. "I don't think we had any passing errors, and I know they didn't have an ace against us."
Sub-state A: Andover Central def. West 25-1, 25-6; Kapaun def. Andover 25-23, 22-25, 25-19. Championship: Kapaun def. Andover Central 25-19, 22-25, 25-22.
Sub-state B: Bishop Carroll def. Winfield 25-9, 25-8; Liberal def. Arkansas City 25-19, 25-17.Championship: Carroll def. Liberal 25-16, 25-16.