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Threshers fall short of KCAC volleyball final in loss to Kansas Wesleyan
Bethel capped two consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins for the first time since 2007/2008.
HUTCHINSON — By the time second-seeded Kansas Wesleyan built a 13-7 lead midway through the first set against third-seeded Bethel, head coach Adriana Leake could tell her Threshers weren’t playing like themselves.
Bethel (23-10), which had defeated sixth-seeded Evangel just six hours prior for its first postseason win in 13 years using fast starts in almost every set, fell victim to exactly that against the Coyotes in Friday night’s KCAC volleyball tournament semifinal.
When the final point was scored and Kansas Wesleyan (26-8) completed the sweep, the Threshers had led just once in the entire match. The Coyotes rushed their end of the court and stuck their logo in the open title game slot on the large printed-out bracket.
“It’s definitely a great experience to make it here,” Leake said. “But we just had our sights set so much higher, so a little bit of a disappointment here at the end, but proud of our team.”
Kansas Wesleyan led wire-to-wire in the first set, pulling ahead 13-7 and stifling any sign of Thresher momentum. Kansas Wesleyan kept Bethel at arm’s length until the final point to capture the 1-0 advantage, 25-20.
The Threshers led in the infant stages of the second set, but it was Kansas Wesleyan once again that capture true momentum, building an 8-4 lead. Bethel was able to put together a pair of runs to close its deficit to one point on several occasions, but the Coyotes always had an answer.
The Threshers made it interesting down the stretch, narrowing it to 24-23 before Kansas Wesleyan put it away to put Bethel’s back against the wall, 25-23.
“We couldn’t get it together,” Leake said. “We weren’t ourselves, which I think is the most disappointing part. We just couldn't really play the game that we normally play which is really gritty and relentless. We [usually] make a lot of teams work really hard and we didn’t do a great job of that tonight.”
Things unraveled for the Threshers in the third and final set as they fell behind 22-12. Despite their best efforts to keep their chances alive — they outscored the Coyotes 9-3 to end the set — it simply wasn’t enough against a team that seemed programmed to poke holes in Bethel’s defense.
By the end, KCAC Defender of the Year Darla Crow had tallied just two blocks, her lowest output in a match since Sep. 15. First-team all-conference selection Kylah Carter finished with a .091 hitting percentage.
Leake was asked whether her squad could make a case to receive an at-large bid to the NAIA playoffs: “I don’t think we can,” she said. “We haven’t played enough high-ranking opponents. I mean, maybe we could hope for it. I don’t think we’re in the running for that, though.”
Regardless of Friday night’s result and Bethel’s playoff fate being all but sealed, the Threshers have undoubtedly built a strong foundation for 2024. They will lose seven seniors and super-seniors — including Carter, Harlie Hunton, Kaitlyn Shima, Julie Wilhite, and Katey Wilhelm — but return plenty of experience.
“Obviously, a big core of our group is returning again [with] some underclassmen we’re hoping to develop in the spring,” Leake said. “We have 13 girls signed already. … So I feel pretty good about us not taking any steps backwards, but we’ll see when [next] fall comes around.”
Bethel won 18 of its final 22 games to finish 2023 with a 23-10 record. It’s the highest single-season win total for the program since 2008. The Threshers won 20 or more games in 2022 and 2023 — the first back-to-back seasons of 20 or more victories for Bethel since 2007/2008.