She needed a moment.
Coach Amanda Neppl’s Kapaun volleyball team had just won the 2018 Maize Invitational in three sets over Maize South on Saturday. And it all hit her at once.
“Kapaun has been through a lot,” Neppl said. “And we finally have the perfect culmination of girls and attitudes, personality and skill. And they work their butts off. They played as a team, and that hasn’t happened in a very long time.
“This is the most selfless team I’ve ever seen.”
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Kapaun cruised to a win in the first set 25-19. The Crusaders’ front line defense was wildly undersized against five Mavericks standing at least 5-foot-10. But they got it done — until the second set.
Kapaun got out to a seven-point lead at 20-13 but squandered it. Maize South came back and won the set 26-24. Junior libero Ryen Wilkens said she had seen that story too many times.
Last week, Kapaun was off to a fiery start at the Valley Center Invitational but fell apart late in the day and finished third behind Bishop Carroll and Rose Hill.
A week before that, the Crusaders lost to Carroll in straight sets.
“We went in that huddle, and everyone was just furious,” Wilkens said.
Maize South has the talent and size to compete for a 5A state championship. Sophomore Laurel Jones, senior Skylar Goering and junior McKinley Pruitt make up just a small part of the Mavs’ lethal offense.
For Kapaun, junior Gracie Becker is the best offensive weapon. She is no taller than 5-9, so she said she has to use glancing shots to bend around blockers.
“It’s about playing smarter, not harder,” she said.
As both teams got tired into the third set, that explosion in front of the net weakened and gave Becker and the Crusaders an advantage — a more level playing field.
Kapaun won the third set 25-20.
“We worked all summer,” senior setter Mia Jefferson said. “We have one day off a week, and it’s just good to finally see it pay off and see that we’re not doing it for nothing.”
Neppl said a tournament win has been a long time coming, especially at one that included Maize South, Garden City and previously undefeated Newton. She said her girls earned it.
For the Crusaders, the tournament championship is about respect. And they feel like they have finally earned that, Wilkens said.
“All of us were tired of walking on to a court and the other team being like, ‘Oh, it’s just Kapaun,’” Wilkens said. “When they walk on and see Kapaun, they should be scared.”
Neppl said this tournament title will be something they can draw strength from throughout the season.
“It probably writes the rest of the season,” she said. “It will keep them on a high and push them through.”