Bethel volleyball ends 21-win season with tournament loss to Saint Mary
The Threshers fall short in their first KCAC postseason quarterfinals appearance in a decade.
HUTCHINSON — In the world of sports, experience goes a long way — and on Friday at Hutchinson Sports Arena, the fourth-seeded Bethel (21-9) volleyball team learned this to be true in the annual KCAC postseason tournament.
After winning 20 games for the first time in 12 years to earn a first-round bye and advance straight to the quarterfinals, the Threshers were swept by fifth-seeded Saint Mary (21-13) — a team Bethel had swept in the regular season. For the Spires, the win marked their fifth-straight trip to the tournament’s semifinals. For the Threshers, the game was the program’s first quarterfinals matchup since 2012.
“Saint Mary played a lot better than they did the first time we played them,” second-year Bethel head coach Adriana Leake said. “Things were just clicking for them and it felt like things just weren't really on our side. We struggled in serve-receive at times. … They definitely played a better game than we did today.”
The Threshers started the first set strong by keeping the Spires at arm’s length, maintaining a three-to-four-point lead. Midway through the set, Saint Mary embarked on an 8-3 run to tie it at 16, then proceeded to score the set’s final six points to take the 25-21 win.
After the two squads switched sides it was the Spires that jumped ahead early in set two. After trailing 7-3, Bethel battled back to eventually lead 17-14. But, once again, Saint Mary’s experience showed through, outscoring Leake’s group 6-4 down the stretch to clinch a crucial 2-0 advantage, 25-23.
“This was definitely a stage that we just haven’t seen before,” Leake said. “We also had the bye week before [this game]. We've only played one game in the last two weeks. I think that played a role in the pace of our game and how we handled some of the things Saint Mary did. We just seemed a little rusty at times.”
That rust would stay on the Threshers through the third set as the Spires put the throttle down en route to a 25-17 victory that completed the sweep. It was an unexpected, emotional, gut-wrenching end to what was otherwise a remarkable campaign for Bethel.
“I just told the team, it's cool that they'll be able to say they were a part of that team that did [the turnaround],” Leake said. “We talked a lot about that last year — that [this] group coming up was gonna be the group that was able to say, ‘We did it, we made it happen here at Bethel and turned everything around.”
She added, “I'm just super positive. I’m also super emotional because they worked so hard for everything they accomplished.”
And with eyes drifting towards 2023, the Threshers will only graduate two seniors before then: Mia Loganbill and Arianna Gomez. This season was Loganbill’s fifth for Bethel and she had eclipsed 1,000 kills in September. Gomez is a junior college transfer.
“So far, everybody's coming back,” Leake said. “We have a freshman signed. … She's an outside [hitter], so I'm hoping Kylah [Carter] can step into Mia’s spot and our incoming freshman can hopefully make a big impact where Kylah was.”
Five of the six Threshers that started on Friday are set to return next season. This includes Katey Wilhelm, Julie Wilhite, Kaity Shima, Mia Roman, and Harlie Hunton.
“I definitely have some areas that I want us to grow in and if we find somebody that we’d love to bring in, then [we’ll do that],” Leake added. “But this is such a good core group.”