Rose Hill’s 2016 Class 4A-I volleyball championship traces its roots to a time before any of its players were in high school.
The title was a culmination of a period – still active – that began when the Rockets advanced to the state tournament in 2009, their first trip in 10 years. Rose Hill’s appearance this year at the 4A-I tournament, which begins Friday in Salina, marks its seventh trip in nine years.
Coach Melissa Segovia, in her seventh season after five as an assistant, has been part of the resurgence and remembers the effect its genesis had on making Rose Hill a volleyball community. She recalls 2011 as a particularly corner-turning year.
“Those seniors and that whole group, they were crucial,” Segovia said. “They weren’t expected to win that sub-state, and they won that sub-state. That really started a lot of things, a lot of traditions. Siblings, family members and people were just buying in.”
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Rose Hill (36-3) has been to state in six straight seasons, highlighted by last year’s somewhat surprising championship, when the Rockets defeated 24-time champ Bishop Miege, winners of the previous three state tournaments, in the final.
The title left Rose Hill in a unique position of having a team that wouldn’t frequently be compared to the championship team that preceded it. Most of the players who helped Rose Hill win a title returned, and it seemed evident early that this year’s team was better.
The Rockets, behind returning All-Metro players Emily Witt and Gracie Van Driel, a Kansas commit, won their first 28 matches and took an undefeated record into October. During those matches, Rose Hill won 56 of 62 sets.
“Every team is different, every single team,” Segovia said. “When those seniors graduate, it’s awesome to see who steps up in those key rules. There’s some things you can’t teach, like that mental aspect. People are willing to step up to that.
“This year we’ve had some seniors, especially Emily Witt and Danyel Yardley, really stepped up in that leadership role, and that’s been really helpful.”
Rose Hill hasn’t experienced many tough times outside of a seven-match stretch this month in which it lost three times. The Rockets rebounded to win their final four matches, winning sets by an average score of 25-13.
A final challenge awaits in Salina, though it might not really be the end. Even though Rose Hill has five seniors among nine regular players, Van Driel leads a strong junior class.
Rose Hill also has tradition, one that began eight years ago when the Rockets advanced to state and community caught on.
“I really think it is kids buying in, the athletes,” Segovia said. “But then the families, as well. The parents, the brothers, the sisters, the grandparents – everybody.
“There has always been that tradition that we’ve been able to push over the hump a little bit. We have always had talent, but now everybody has bought in, the whole town.”
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