Hill City coach Lindsey Wathen knew she would have a challenge making sure her No. 2 seeded Hill City volleyball team didn't overlook No. 7 seed Custer in the first round of the Region 8A playoffs Tuesday night.
The Rangers accepted the challenge, sweeping the Wildcats by the scores of 25-18, 25-20 and 25-10.
"You just remind them that anything can happen, and they’ve seen things like that happen," she said. "They’ve seen the bottom seed take that higher seed, so they knew they had to go out and play as hard as they could and practice the skills they have to be able to execute later in the week."
Hill City, 30-6, will face No. 3 seed Rapid City Christian, 23-12, at home Thursday. The Lady Comets topped No. 6 seed Hot Springs 25-6, 25-17, 25-17. The winner will advance to Class A Sweet 16.
Custer ends the season 6-25, and co-coach Jill Hohn said her young team not only grew up this season, but also grew close together.
"We definitely laughed a lot, we had good team camaraderie. They really, really came together as teammates. They’re a hard working group of girls, and we know they have a bright future ahead of them," she said. "There were a lot more nerves going into the game, but some of the girls that we were a little more concerned about that, who had some confidence issues, really stepped up, so we were proud of that. It’s a good indication of what the future holds."
In the first set the Rangers got out to a 9-3 lead, which grew into a 22-14 advantage before they closed the first set.
The second set got off to a similar start, with Hill City taking an early 11-6 lead. Custer was able to go on a 8-4 run which made the score 15-14 in favor of the Rangers, and forced them to call a timeout.
After the timeout Hill City went on a 10-6 run to close out the set.
"The first few sets were really good, we were right there with them. Third sets, and we talked about it all year; we struggled with the mental toughness," Hohn said. "We do have a young team and they don’t quite have the mental toughness that they need right now. We’ll keep working on that and hopefully that’ll grow next season, but that’s definitely one of our downfalls and it showed on the court tonight. When the chips were down and in pressure situations they’re still learning and growing."
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The third set was dominant from Hill City. It started with a 10-2 lead and grew that lead to 18-7, closing the match on a 7-3 run to advance.
Emily Siemonsma had 18 assists for the Rangers and Kally Knutson had 22 digs. Hill City also utilized its height, with 5-foot, 10-inch Dale Schrier leading the team with 16 kills, and Holly Peckosh, who is the same height, kicking in 12.
"This is the first year in a while that we’ve had some height. We had some girls do some major growing over the summer, and we’ve been anticipating that since they were little," Wathen said. "We’re excited about that, not just to have the hitting, but the blocking as well."
No other results were made available for Custer.
Wathen said she was happy with the way her team passed Tuesday, saying that is something the Rangers have worked on all season and she's seen a lot of improvement.
"We were passing really well tonight, and that’s what we’ve been working on all week. We know that if we’re solid at passing we can execute pretty much everything else," she said. "We came into the season knowing we had to clean up our passing, so that’s what we worked on all summer, and early in the season, and then we started becoming really strong hitters so we focused on different special plays they weren’t able to run when they were younger."
Hill City turns its attention to the Lady Comets with the next goal in sight. Wathen said the focus will remain the same for her team.
"We’re taking it night-by-night, and everything this week has been day-by-day. We’re going to practice and then we’re going to play," she said. "It's just trying to keep them mentally focused, positive and going out there with confidence."
The match between Christian and Hill City will be Thursday in Hill City at 6 p.m.