When Rose Hill junior Emily Witt was in the seventh grade, she was already telling her parents and teammates that Rose Hill was going to win a state championship their junior year.
It was already obvious Rose Hill would be equipped with the right pieces. The team had a dominant middle, a cast of great hitters, a setter, and excellent defense on the back row.
“We could tell back then that we had perfection everywhere,” said Danyel Yardley, recalling Witt’s prophecy.
What nagged at Witt was she never could settle on how the final moment would play out or if she would be ready for it, so she would stay up late at night imagining the possibilities.
When the moment presented itself Saturday afternoon in the Class 4A-I championship match against Bishop Miege, a 25-22, 25-20 victory, Witt didn’t have to say anything to Gracie Van Driel. They made eye contact on match point and they both knew this was their destiny.
Senior Anna Van Driel saw the exchange from the bench.
“I already started crying,” she said, “because I knew.”
The pass from Jadan Heinz was on target, as Witt didn’t have to move for the set. Five feet to Witt’s left, Gracie Van Driel was bracing for lift-off in the middle of the court where she bludgeons so many of her kills.
The moment was here.
“I knew I had to put that ball down for us,” Van Driel said. “That was it. It didn’t matter about anything else that had happened. This was our year, our time.”
The ball met Van Driel at the apex of her leap and when the 6-foot-1 sophomore swings down on the ball, there’s nothing teams can do. All six Rockets collapsed to the floor and the tears flowed.
Rose Hill fulfilled its destiny, completing a 39-5 season to win its first state championship. It also halted the dynasty of Miege, which had won three straight titles and 7 of 8.
“It’s hard to describe what this feeling is like,” Rose Hill coach Melissa Segovia said. “It’s still unbelievable to understand. You start thinking about all of the work these girls have put in, all of the emotions, all of the time, all of those years, and it just paid off.”
Rose Hill overwhelmed its opponents this weekend with the speed in which it operated its offense. The quick sets from Witt to Gracie Van Driel were particularly devastating, but the Rockets had a healthy balance of offense from Anna Van Driel, Rachel Salazar, and Breckynn Myers.
The Rockets rolled through Paola 25-17, 25-20 in the semifinals, and even Miege struggled setting its block in time to keep up with the Rose Hill tempo.
“That’s what gives us an advantage,” Segovia said. “The quicker we go, the harder it is to stop us.”
Miege did not hold a lead past the 20th point in either set, as Rose Hill controlled most of the match with its block and the back-row excellence of Yardley and Heinz keeping points alive.
The seniors will tell you that this run began last year when Rose Hill lost in the sub-state championship game.
“We left with the feeling of we’re missing something,” Anna Van Driel said.
On Saturday, they found it.
“It didn’t really hit me until I saw Anna crying,” Gracie Van Driel said. “I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is it. We’re done. This is our championship and we just won it.’ ”
Andover Central third — For the first time in program history, Andover Central made it to the second day of the state tournament and then won its first state trophy by defeating Paola 29-27, 25-21 in the third-place match.
“It’s so exciting because we worked hard all season and this was our goal to make it to the second day for the first time ever,” Central senior Kelli Sleefe said. “It feels great to be here.”
Central (29-17) had an up-and-down season, but what impressed coach Rachel Tyner about her team was its resiliency.
After losing 25-15, 25-17 to Miege in the semifinals, Tyner thinks her team would not have responded well to that type of adversity earlier in the season.
“But we these girls continued to fight and I’m so proud of where they’ve come from,” Tyner said. “This is school history right here. No other team has ever made it this far, so it’s very well-deserved. These girls have worked hard and have put their hearts and souls into this to get where we’re at right now.”
Semifinals: Rose Hill def. Paola 25-17, 25-20; Bishop Miege def. Andover Central 25-15, 25-17. Third place: Andover Central def. Paola 29-27, 25-21. Championship: Rose Hill def. Miege 25-22, 25-20.
Semifinals: Topeka Hayden def. Baxter Springs 25-12, 25-20; Concordia def. Nickerson 25-15, 14-25, 25-22. Third place: Nickerson def. Baxter Springs 25-12, 25-19.Championship: Topeka Hayden def. Concordia 25-19, 25-15.