Volleyball notes: Maize, Northwest make in-season adjustments
Maize volleyball has had its share of adversity. Two former players chose not to play, and now the Eagles’ best player, junior hitter/setter Keiryn Swenson who has an offer from Wichita State, has been diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Yet Maize is unbeaten in Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division I and plays a division triangular Tuesday against Derby and host Newton.
“It’s been interesting this season,” coach Betsy Manning said. “There’s been a different person who stands out, depending on the night. It’s not the same person over and over and over again.… It doesn’t feel like the weight of the world is on any one person’s shoulders. It feels like a more balanced attack.”
Manning used Swenson in a limited role last week, keeping her as a hitter only.
“She’s been a wild card for about the last week,” Manning said. “She hasn’t practiced quite as much, just to give her time off to rest and not take it as hard.”
Maize has run a 6-2 offense with Swenson, who is 6-foot-1 and has committed to Tulsa for basketball, and junior Tyler Downs. But in a triangular on Oct. 1, Downs was pressed into running the 5-1 offense.
“We’re kind of adjusting our lineup right now,” Manning said. “We’re trying some new things, just to make sure (Swenson’s) healthy, taking care of herself and not getting run down.
“… (Downs) looks pretty good. We hadn’t played or practiced it before really. She jumps really well, and she’s a good net player. When the pass was a little too tight, she can get up and dip and dump.”
Maize’s outside hitters, Maddi Cumpston and Maddy Orton, are also strong defensively in the back row. Both are year-round volleyball players.
“They are very talented defensive players, and because they see the court so well, they can find the holes and can get the cheaper points,” Manning said. “They have the ball control to do it.”
Northwest’s adjustments — Northwest coach Craig Smith didn’t hesitate to take the blame for the Grizzlies’ slow start that included losing 10 of 15 matches.
“It’s awfully easy to point to the court and blame the players,” he said. “It’s not where the blame lies. I had to step back and see what was happening.
“You can’t continue doing the same thing and hope the result will change. Before (the triangular on Oct. 1), we did some tinkering with the lineups, and we found some success.”
Northwest beat a quality East team, then took the first set off Kapaun, Class 5A’s second-ranked team.
“I think I needed to have the right mix of people on the court together,” Smith said. “This means people lost playing time. Just because I’ve changed the lineup doesn’t mean the people who aren’t playing are the cause of the problem.
“Sometimes different people work better in different situations next to different people.”
One constant for Northwest (13-12) has been senior Aliya Higginbotham, a standout hitter and defensive player in the back row. After the season’s first month, she led the team in five of eight statistical categories.
“She has poured so much of herself in this program in the two seasons I’ve seen her,” said Smith, in his second year at Northwest. “… It pays off in her athletic performance. She has such a competitor’s mentality. You just love to have that kid on the court.”
A surprise for Smith has been freshman Kylie Acebedo, who played right side for most of the season and now stays in for all positions.
“Seeing how quickly she has adjusted to the speed of varsitying coming out of middle school is exciting,” Smith said.
Digging pink — Hesston is hosting a Dig Pink night on Tuesday during his quadrangular with Halstead, Hillsboro and Sterling. Pink ribbons and T-shirts will be sold and all proceeds go to the Side-Out Foundation for breast cancer research.