Andover Central's volleyball team had one of those special seasons in 2009, and everything seemed to be going right as the Jaguars entered the Class 5A sub-state final undefeated. Unfortunately, the season ended there, and the Jaguars graduated five starters.
"We had a good run last year, but the end was disappointing," Andover Central coach Kelly Cook said.
The Jaguars opened this season losing five of their first eight, but Cook understood why. Those losses were to three of the Wichita area's top teams — two to Valley Center, two to Maize and one to Goddard.
"We put girls together that never played together before and had never played varsity," she said. "We moved up to Division II (in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League) and it is more of a challenge. With a brand-new group, it will take a little time to get adjusted to."
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Andover Central (10-6) finished second in the Arkansas City tournament on Saturday, losing to Circle in the title match. The Jaguars beat Northwest, Mulvane, Belle Plaine and Winfield.
A tougher schedule should better prepare the Jaguars for the postseason.
"Each day in practice we talk about how it's where we end up that matters," Cook said."... Last season we didn't have as much competition through league. Now we have played some of the best teams in the area, so now we get to see our problem areas really early. I think I haven't panicked because of the maturity of the returning players."
Two of Andover Central's key players are Mackenzie Harding and Meredith Meier, a three-year starting setter.
Harding, a junior, is a two-year starter. She hit middle as a freshman and sophomore but has moved outside.
"We set her as much as we possibly can," Cook said.
Young talent — Buhler returned five starters from its 17-18 team in 2009, including two sophomores, Josie Williams and Macki Pankratz.
Williams was an All-Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail III selection as a freshman, while Pankratz was second team all-league.
"Josie's an amazing athlete," said Buhler coach Kara Voss of the middle hitter. "She's a smart player.... She has a vertical and is powerful."
As for Pankratz, she set out of the 5-1 offense in 2009 but Voss has moved to the 6-2 offense to utilize Pankratz's hitting. Junior Lindy Sasse moved from libero to setting.
" (Pankratz) is my outside hitter, and she also has a very powerful swing," Voss said. "She's a smart setter. I have never coached a setter like Macki, to be a sophomore and that good."
Matchups to watch — The best quadrangular today is at Rose Hill with Circle, Collegiate, Wellington and the host Rockets.
Goddard and McPherson are at Andover Central today. On Thursday, East, which beat Heights in five games last week, plays at Carroll.