Volleyball makes history, looks to improve for future seasons

Anjali Noel Ramesh

Following a district championship, victories in the sectional tournament and state quarterfinals and a fourth-place finish in the Final Four, the RBHS volleyball team set a new record this year, making it farther into post-season than any other volleyball group in school history. Finishing with a 34-6 win-loss record, the Bruins also said goodbye to a total of nine seniors. Emily Marcks, one of the nine, said she believes the team did well this year because of the trust the girls’ had in the coaching staff and in each other. 

“It was such a fun experience competing against some really good teams in Missouri,” Marcks said. “[We are] very blessed that our team has such good chemistry. I feel like that’s one of the reasons we got so far in post-season.”

Since she does not plan on playing volleyball in college, Marcks said she tried to make the most of her senior season. She said her main goal was to help the team win and conquer adversities, such as having a completely new head coach this year, all while having fun with the girls. 

“One of my favorite moments from the season was hyping everyone up in the locker room before every home game,” Marcks said. “It was so fun, honestly one of my favorite senior memories.”

Trevor Koelling, the new head volleyball coach, said the environment created by both the players and the audience assisted in making the competition fun and exhilarating. He said in the district finals against Helias Catholic High School (HHS) especially, the overall ambiance impacted the level of skill the players displayed, and only improved their play throughout the game.

“The district championship was amazing,” Koelling said. “It was one of our best games of the whole year and we got to play it against a huge crowd. The atmosphere in the gym was electric and it was fun to complete one of the first steps of our post-season goal.”

To prepare for a higher level of play in postseason, he said the team scouted their opponents in more detail compared to previous years. 

“We would watch films and make scouting reports to go over as a team,” Koelling said. “This changed how we ran practice because we were always preparing for the next match.”

In the district tournament, matches were often back-to-back, or as close as 48 hours apart. The Bruins first played Capital City High School and won 3-0, advancing directly to the finals. They then mimicked this score in the finals against HHS, claiming the district championship title in straight sets. Three days after the district finals, the girls’ played Lebanon High School in sectionals, winning 3-1, followed by a similar victory against Nixa High School (NHS) 3-1. 

Senior Madison Higginbotham said the NHS game was one of her all-time favorites this season because the large turnout set an attendance record. In the audience was the RBHS BruCrew, along with avid fans and family members. Higginbotham said the vast number of people gave the team a sense of comfort and the edge they needed to pull off the win, and the energy carried them through the rest of postseason.

“Making it further than any other RBHS volleyball team gave me and my fellow teammates a sense of accomplishment and pride,” Higginbotham said. “Obviously, our season didn’t end the way we wanted to but I’m proud of what we accomplished and what we had to sacrifice in order to make it there.”

In the last two rounds of the state tournament, the Bruins struggled to pull off a victory, losing 3-0 against Lee’s Summit West High School in the semi-finals and 3-2 against St.Dominic High School in the third-place match. Their appearance in the Final Four, however, was enough to make history as the first volleyball team from RBHS to do so. Higginbotham said for the seniors specifically, reaching this point allowed them to leave their mark on the program.

“Being able to compete at such a high level with this team was a full-circle moment,” she said. “All the seniors met before the season and discussed our goals and how we were going to shape this program, and to be able to get that far after four hard years was the perfect way to end my high school career.”

Higginbotham, like Marcks, said she does not plan on playing collegiate volleyball, but will take away multiple life lessons unique to the sport and this season. Additionally, she said she attributes the success this season to the people who supported the girls, rather than their athletic skill alone. This community included coaching staff, teammates and fans. Their resilience, she said, was a result of the strong backbone RBHS provided.

“This season taught me that if you really want something, you have to go get it yourself,” Higginbotham said. “No one handed us our wins or our abilities to win. We had to work hard every single day and stay focused in order to get where we wanted to. And we couldn’t have done this alone.”

While Marcks and Higginbotham helped the Bruins triumph this postseason, the outcomes of future seasons lie in the hands of the younger players. Junior Ella Swindle said she is confident the momentum from this season will propel the team further into the state tournament next year. 

“Going into my final volleyball season at [RBHS] as a senior, I will take away the knowledge of what it takes to not only make it to [the Final Four], but what it takes to be a state champion,” Swindle said. “Although we did not win it all this year, I think a standard was set for teams to come that it isn’t about what [RBHS] volleyball has done, but what we will do. We aren’t done making history. Sooner than later, a championship banner will hang in our gymnasium.” 

Koelling also said this season was motivating for the future and will continue to build a strong relationship with the team as a whole. He will be returning as head coach for the 2022 season.

“I feel the reason we were able to compete for so long was due to the fact that all my players trusted each other and their coaches,” Koelling said. “I think I will take away the euphoric feelings of a long post-season and use it to motivate myself to return to the state championships as many times as I can. This season was a great example of the power and magic that can happen when all the players are invested and care about a common goal.”

How do you feel about the volleyball team making history this year? Let us know in the comments below.