Keep the tradition going.
The thought stuck in Rachel Sorensen's head throughout the Corner Conference volleyball tournament. Don't let this team be the one that breaks the streak.
The Stanton senior wasn't the first to embrace the pressure, and she won't be the last. It's what happens when a program runs off eight straight league tournament titles — with many coming in dominant fashion — while consistently contending for state tournament berths.
When the Class 1-A No. 6 Viqueens swept Villisca last week to clinch their ninth crown, players posed for pictures holding up nine fingers. Some held a “9-PEAT” sign.
Stanton isn't afraid to celebrate and build upon its volleyball past. That's one reason why the future seems bright for the tiny program nestled in the middle of Montgomery County.
“We just want to make sure everyone knows that we represent our community well,” Sorensen said. “Like other schools, we want to come out and show that we can do it. We have the talent, we have the ability.”
System taught early
Pick any girl who attends school in Stanton. Chances are good that part of her daily schedule includes a court and net.
Out of 74 students in grades nine through 12 at Stanton, 47 are female. Of those, 31 are involved in the volleyball program (three as managers). Among junior high girls, 17 of 20 participate in the sport.
The majority of current varsity members grew up in the youth program, learning fundamentals starting in third grade. In seventh grade, girls are introduced to the offense they hope to be part of for years to come.
Junior outside hitter Carmen Subbert said the system was a big reason why she was able to flourish as a freshman starter in 2010. Now the hard-swinging 5-foot-7 standout leads her team with a 3.07 kills-per-set average while contributing as an effective blocker and back-row defender.
Her older sister Kadie Subbert made a similar transition into a four-year leader from 2007-10 before signing with Grand View University. The town has seen its share of talented athletes.
“We've all played together for a lot of years. I think that's helped a lot,” Carmen Subbert said. “Now we're friends on and off the court, and I think you can tell we have a lot of team chemistry.
“We work really hard and play together, and that's the big thing at Stanton.”
First-year coach Jody Druivenga enjoys a rapport with her players, as well. She began working with junior high players seven years ago and also spent the last three as a varsity assistant under coach J Browning, who moved to California last summer.
What struck Druivenga initially was the level of communication between coaches at all levels in town. Everyone knew to start by emphasizing basic serving and passing, then go from there. Stay grounded, have fun and don't ask too much from the girls too soon.
“A lot of people like youth coaches volunteer their time to make things happen when the kids are younger,” Druivenga said. “Without all of those people working together, we wouldn't have the kind of program that we do.”
Perhaps the key to Stanton's surge has been a year-round commitment from players themselves. Its senior class was the first group to compete in the offseason, with eight girls in AAU leagues when they were eighth-graders.
Forty girls took part last winter. At a small school where most have other sports or activities to balance, it's a powerful message of volleyball's priority.
“I feel that we've just experienced so much through all this,” Sorensen said. “It just builds and builds.”
Best is yet to come?
As good as the Viqueens have been, their best days may be ahead.
The majority of their lineup consists of girls who were key contributors to Stanton reaching its first state tournaments the past two seasons while compiling a 61-6 record.
All but two varsity players are seniors or juniors on a squad that graduated only its libero last year. The team has eight seniors, including captains Sorensen and setter Ragen Anderson, as well as regulars Kara Allen, Kimber Wagg and Rochelle Sink.
Subbert, who sets the tone offensively, is joined by libero Macy Elwood and Erin DeKay among juniors with consistent court time.
The Viqueens, at 28-2 and winners of 29 straight sets entering Tuesday, open regional action Oct. 16 against Sidney.
“They seem to know what each other is doing and really gel well with each other,” Druivenga said. “Sometimes they don't have to communicate because they have a feel for what each other is going to do.
“Then there are other games where it's like, ‘You might need to verbally communicate with each other because you are running into each other out there.'”
In addition to talented athletes, Stanton's ardent community support is obvious by the enthusiastic crowds clad in purple sweaters and hats ever present at volleyball events.
That love isn't lost on players. Even small things, like the booster club providing postmatch road meals, help make busy schedules a little easier.
Anything to keep the tradition going. And with a talented group of veterans, maybe set the bar a little higher next month.
“We can come in prepared, knowing the games are going to be tough, knowing the crowds are going to be loud, knowing that there's going to be calls we won't like,” Sorensen said. “But we have to be mentally prepared, and that's part of being experienced.”