Bishop Carroll’s roster from last year’s state tournament looks much different than it does now.
In 2018, the Golden Eagles made Wichita high school volleyball history, beating a Kansas City area team to reach the Kansas Class 5A semifinals. Carroll finished fourth in the state behind a massive, inspirational senior class.
The Eagles made their first big splash last year at the Valley Center Invitational, beating two-time defending 4A champion Rose Hill to capture the title. Saturday, they were back in Valley Center and won it again with one of the most inexperienced varsity rosters in the tournament.
Carroll faced Andale, a team that has had its eyes on the Eagles since the start of the season, in the semifinals. The Eagles lost the first set 25-15 but rallied and won the second and third sets, 26-24, 25-20.
And in the championship match, Carroll played perhaps the most talented team in the area — Andover. Again, Carroll lost the first set, but this time was worse. The Eagles manufactured just 12 points. Coach Rita Mernagh said she didn’t feel her group panic though.
Carroll, for the second straight match, won the final two sets 25-20, 25-20 to seal a pair of wins over state title contenders and the invitational championship.
“They’re filling in shoes, and they’re doing it well,” Mernagh said. “These kids are trained well through club ball nine months out of the year.”
Mernagh said she brought three players up from junior varsity for the first time to play in the tournament. They all contributed to the title.
But Carroll leaned on perhaps the most dangerous combination of outside hitters outside of Kansas City. Juniors Ella Larkin and Riley Daugherty served as cannons from the corners and helped spur several Carroll rallies.
“I love playing with Riley,” Larkin said. “I love setting her up and getting that kill. It’s an awesome feeling.”
They are two of three juniors on the varsity roster this season. There are no freshmen. There are no sophomores. The rest of the team is made up of seniors who have worked their way into the starting lineup.
“Coming into this tournament, I wasn’t 100 percent sure how we would do because we have so many new faces,” Daugherty said. “Even one of our seniors had to take the ACT today. It was awesome to see us all come together.”
Players like Rylea Peterson, Grace Mernagh, Maggie Brandt and others were role players on last year’s fourth-place team. They came off the bench and were often used to give the starters a chance to breathe.
This year, they are meshing into what could be the best team in the WIchita area.
“We still have some learning curve here, but they’re very teachable,” Rita Mernagh said. “That’s where we’re lucky. As talented as some of them are, they don’t have attitudes.”