St. James Academy, Aquinas play to match of the year
Nancy Dorsey couldn’t breathe, and the match had been over for 30 minutes.
The St. James Academy volleyball coach had just led her Thunder to its second straight Kansas Class 5A state volleyball championship with a 26-24, 20-25, 34-32 win over St. Thomas Aquinas at Tony’s Pizza Event Center. It took that much out of her.
“I’m exhausted,” she said. “I kind of felt like I was playing. Physically, I was running and jumping and stomping and screaming.
“We knew at the end of the season it would come down to, ‘Can we get them to believe in themselves the way we believe in them?’ And ultimately, they did that.”
On the winning point, Thunder junior Elizabeth Wheeler rounded senior Morgan Miller, who delivered a flawless set that Wheeler smashed down the line. Exactly 24 minutes earlier, St. James had trailed 14-7.
Dorsey said that has been her team this season. In the Thunder’s sub-state match, the team went down 8-1 before flipping the switch. St. James did that again Saturday.
In the first set, Aquinas sat on game point for close to 10 minutes, leading 24-19, before St. James mounted its comeback in an eventual 26-24 set win.
Dorsey said senior outside hitter Audrey Klemp was one of the biggest reasons the Thunder pulled it out.
“She was out of control,” she said. “She had 28 kills. That’s like college-level stupidity. She was just a beast. I looked at my setter and said, ‘You do not set anyone else the ball.’ I typically like to spread my offense out, but even when she made those errors at the end, I was like, ‘Give her the ball again.’ “
The title was not only a second straight for St. James, it also marked back-to-back runner-up finishes for the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints, who Dorsey said absolutely “deserved” to win it.
“I genuinely feel for Aquinas,” Dorsey said. “To lose a match like that, it’s a gut-wrenching heartbreak. They played so well, and they really have nothing to be sad about. It really could have gone either way.”
As the third set wore on, St. James ran out of subs and was trapped in a weaker lineup with senior defensive specialist Addison Weybrew on the sideline.
Weybrew said watching was agony.
“From on the bench, all of us were shaking and feeling like we coudln’t really do much to help,” she said. “But everyone knows how much our bench does help. We kind of just rely on each other. It really wasn’t too much pressure.”
Weybrew was part of last year’s state title team. She said this year’s group was more dynamic, versatile in its offensive sets and threats.
But like all years at St. James, the togetherness was unmatched.
During every match of the state tournament, each Thunder player wore a differently designed Band-Aid on her left thigh. Dorsey said it is a tradition they have done for years and brings them closer and shows them they are in it together.
They needed it Saturday.
“This was for sure the craziest match I’ve ever been a part of,” Weybrew said. “Our last win at state was pretty exciting, but this — I’ve never played in a score that high. It was wild.”
Miege wins title No. 25, Lawrence No. 16
Bishop Miege has been atop the Kansas volleyball scene for years, and the Stags added to their legacy on Saturday.
Miege won its 25th Kansas state volleyball championship with a 25-13, 25-14 win over Louisburg in Class 4A in Hutchinson. The Stags lost two sets in five matches across the tournament.
Miege cruised through its group, only suffering through a third set to the fourth-place finisher in Class 4A, Andale. Saturday in the semifinals, the Stags ran into trouble against Topeka-Hayden.
After winning the first set 25-19, the Wildcats stormed back and took the second set by the same score. But in the third, Miege showed its depth, pulling away late to reach the 4A championship match.
Louisburg was undefeated after edging past Andale in its semifinal, but Miege made quick work of the Wildcats.
With the 2018 championship, Miege still has a nine-title lead over the next most accomplished program in Kansas after Lawrence defeated Blue Valley 19-25, 25-14, 25-14 in Salina on Saturday for its 16th championship in school history.