Prep Volleyball

Hannibal starts 3-0 but has eyes on district success

Marshall's Emma Schulte attempts to block a hit by Hannibal's Maddie Janes on Saturday, Sep. 8, 2018. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 10, 2018 9:50 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The players on the Hannibal volleyball team were buzzing in the locker room after their first match of the season.

The Pirates had rallied from a set down to knock off Payson Seymour, the reigning Illinois Class 1A state champs, in the season opener last week on the road. They had reason to believe the season was going to be a special one, and the victory confirmed that.

"We had beaten (Payson) over the summer, but we knew it was still going to be really, really difficult during the season," Hannibal senior middle blocker Claire Thomas said. "It really opened our eyes when we realized we had a chance to win that, and we didn't want to let it go."

Hannibal capped off the first week of the season with straight-set victories over Bowling Green and Marshall. It hasn't dropped a set since the first one of the season.

It's making the Pirates believe a special season could be blossoming.

That means doing something that hasn't been done in seven years -- winning a district championship.

"We've got the bar set really high, because we return a lot of starters and a lot of people who had a lot of court time," Hannibal coach Kelsey Whitley said.

The Pirates only lost Shelby Nelson to graduation. That's meant the chemistry has been present since the first day of practice, which contributed to the strong start.

They've played unselfishly, too, as a different player has led the team in kills each game. The Pirates already have five players -- Abby Bauman (18), Thomas (17), Kaylee Falconer (11), Peyton Utterback (10) and Maddie Janes (10) -- with at least 10 kills on the season.

Whitley said that's by design.

"We've got strong hitters across the board," she said. "We're not relying on that one big hitter. If you look at our stats, our setters are doing a really good job distributing the ball among our hitters."

That makes the Pirates' offense difficult to stop.

"Everyone can hit," Thomas said. "They all have things they're extremely good at. It's important to have that because we work so hard to have everyone good at hitting so we can throw off other teams."

The players at the net aren't the only ones making the Pirates strong. The back row is also playing its part.

Four players recorded at least 10 digs in the victory over Marshall, which ran Hannibal's North Central Missouri Conference winning streak to 21 matches.

The Pirates are proud of that winning streak, but they're focused on winning the program's first district title since 2011.

"I don't want to downplay we've won our conference a few years in a row," Whitley said. "But that's not one of our top priorities. We definitely want to show our strength, but when we go to tournaments, it really prepares us for district because that's our goal. These matches are just kind of like stepping stones for districts."

Last year's team went 19-9 but earned only a fourth seed for district play, and it lost to top-seeded Wentzville Timberland in the semifinals. Hannibal lost in the first round of district play in both 2015 and 2016.

The impressive start has them believing this year won't end with an early exit in district play.

"I definitely think we're capable," Thomas said. "It's my goal, and it's the team's goal. We can't take anything for granted, and we just have to keep pushing."