After being tasked with replacing four seniors and competing in the Crossroads Conference against top teams like BDS and Cross County, the East Butler volleyball team struggled to pick up wins during the 2019 campaign. The Tigers finished the year 6-23.
Yet, despite the lopsided win-loss record, head coach Karmen Widick believes that many valuable lessons were learned by a squad that only loses two seniors.
"I think the younger girls gained valuable experience at the varsity level that will certainly help them in the next few years," Widick said. "They know what it takes to play at that level and how they need to stay in each point mentally and physically.
"We played three freshmen and a sophomore with no previous varsity experience in our normal rotation. They didn’t realize how much work it took to play the sport well. Things that allowed them to excel in junior high didn’t do a lot for them at the varsity level."
East Butler's six wins came against Wilber-Clatonia at the Weeping Water Tournament on Sept. 7, Nebraska Lutheran and Osceola at the Cross County Invite on Sept. 21, Friend in a home triangular on Sept. 26, Osceola in a road triangular at Osceola on Oct. 8 and Omaha Nation in a home triangular on Oct. 15.
The season came to an end with a loss to Palmer in the D1-6 sub-district tournament at Shelby-Rising City on Oct. 28.
"Overall, I was pleased with how the girls progressed," Widick said. "We lost to some teams that we shouldn’t have, but we also played really well against teams with more talent and experience than we had. I’m proud of them.
"We had to deal with a lot of changes as the season progressed, and the girls handled everything without really missing a beat. They grew in their skills and they grew together as a team."
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East Butler will lose two seniors off of this year's team - Kailyn Hummel and Lexi Haney.
Haney led the Tigers in kills with 146, nearly 35 percent of the team's total kills. Hummel led in aces with 33, with a serve percentage of nearly 94 percent and was tops in assists with 184.
"My two seniors, Kailyn Hummel and Lexi Haney, did a great job of keeping the team focused," Widick said. "They encouraged the younger girls and pushed them to do better when they needed to."
Junior Addie Sullivan was another standout for East Butler. She finished the year with 58 kills, 28 aces and 126 assists.
"Addie Sullivan did a great job for us," Widick said. "She pulled double duty as a setter and a hitter, but I was most impressed with the things she did on the court that don’t show up in the stats. If there was a ball in the air, she would be chasing it down to keep it in play for us."
The six-win season was the lowest win total for East Butler since 2016 during a four-win season.
"I learned that they are capable of more than they realize," Widick said. "Sometimes they don’t give themselves enough credit for the things they can accomplish. They need to continue to work on the mindset of being able to compete at a high level regardless of who they are playing or what is going on around them at the time.
"There were very few times when we didn’t put forth the effort we were capable of. Unfortunately, those were also the games we should have won and didn’t. I hope the girls realize the correlation between the two and realize how important the mental side of the game is to their success."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net