Pete Logan
On a night when the Gardner-Edgerton High School volleyball program honored their outgoing seniors, the Trailblazers swept two matches in four games and downed visiting Shawnee Mission East and Olathe North Thursday Night at Gardner-Edgerton High School Gymnasium.
Powered by the power hitting of junior hitter Jaylyne Bell (15 kills on the night) and the defensive prowess of senior Kendra Wait, the Blazers first turned back the Lancers of East 25-22 and 25-18, then dispatched the Olathe North Eagles 25-18 and 25-21.
It was a slow start for the home team in their opening match against East. Blazer errors and miscommunication helped the Lancers jump out to a 9-4 lead before a return from GEHS senior Lauren Havlik dropped just inside the line on the SME side to stop the bleeding. That started a run of four straight GEHS points that were punctuated by a pair of Wait service aces, making the score 9-8 East. The Lancers regained a five-point lead at 14-9, but Wait brought Gardner-Edgerton back to within one with a block to make it 15-14, and then Bell did the same with a kill at 16-15. Late in the game, East held a 22-20 lead, but the Trailblazers ended the game on a 5-0 run that started with a kill from senior hitter Jordan Boone, Bell followed with a kill of her own, then Boone smacked another one home. After an East timeout, a directed tap in from Bell made it 24-20 GEHS, before a combined block by Boone and fellow senior Brandy Njogu ended Game One as a 25-20 Blazer victory.
In Game Two, the two teams jostled back and forth early and were tied at 6-6, before a Boone kill started a run of four straight Blazer points. After the Lancers pulled to within two at 11-9, Boone started a mini-run of 3-0 with a block, while Njogu punctuated the spurt with a kill that made the score 14-9 Blazers. The visitors closed to within four at 16-12 before a block by GEHS junior Kiersten Markos, a kill by Wait, and another by Tailblazer senior outside hitter Gracen Mealman gave the Blazers a 19-12 edge. Mealman would smash another one to give Gardner-Edgerton its largest lead of the game at 21-13. Wait kept the advantage at 8 a little later with a block that made the score 22-14. However, East then engaged on a 4-0 run that forced a Trailblazer timeout. The regrouping by GEHS head coach Hannah Berry worked to the Blazers’ advantage, as successive kills by Mealman, Bell, and Boone sealed the game (and the match) in the home side’s favor 25-18. GEHS had taken Match One — two games to none,
The Lancers then faced off against Olathe North in the evening’s second match. East claimed a two games to none match victory, winning both sets by the score of 25-21.
After the Lancers-Eagles’ match, the GEHS volleyball seniors were honored in ceremonies held on the court. Boone, Lexi Gregg, Havlik, Lauryn Karr, Njogu, and Wait were each introduced with their parents and stood before the crowd as their honors and accomplishments were acknowledged. Many had been members of last year’s team that had taken 3rd at the Kansas 6A Volleyball State Championship last year.
In the evening’s third match, the Trailblazers faced off against Olathe North. The Blazers were again slow to start in their first game against the Eagles, allowing North to take an early 9-6 lead. However, GEHS then found their rhythm when a Mealman kill started a 7-0 run by the home team, punctuated by a block by Bell and Boone that put Gardner-Edgerton up 13-9. North closed to within two at 16-14 before a 6-0 run in which Bell, Wait, Mealman, and Boone each scored points pushed the Trailblazer advantage to 22-14. The Eagles would get no closer than within five points of the home side the rest of the way, as the Blazers closed out a 25-18 Game One victory.
North jumped out to a 3-0 lead at the beginning of Game Two and appeared to be keeping Gardner-Edgerton at bay when the Eagles led 5-3. However, a 4-0 mini-run in which Bell racked up points on an ace and a kill gave the Trailblazers a 7-5 edge. The Eagles came back to tie the game at 7-7, but another Blazer 4-0 run — helped by Mealman who started the run with a kill and earned the last point of it with a block — put GEHS up 11-7. The lead grew to as much as 5 at 17-12 on a Wait block, but Olathe North proved tenacious and pulled to within one at 21-20. However, Bell took over down the stretch, spiking home three successive kills that put the Trailblazers up 24-20, before they eventually clinched a 25-21 Game Two win and a two games to zero match victory.
After the evening’s matches were over, Wait — who, among her many accolades in her career as a Blazer, was the 2019 Gatorade Kansas Volleyball Player of the Year — spoke about how she and her teammates were able to rebound from slow starts in the evening’s games.
“It was just kind of about finding our connection,” said the senior. “At the beginning of each one we were just getting used to being out on the court. You could tell all of us were a little nervous because it was Senior Night and these are big teams that we were playing, so it was just coming out and saying, ‘Hey, just play our game. We can do this.’ and that’s what kind of pulled us together and allowed us to say, ‘Hey, we’re back in this.’ and then we just continued to fight through it all.”
Asked about her reflections as a senior on her time in the program and about having a Senior Night so early in the season due to the realities of COVID-19, Wait took a thankful approach.
“Being a part of this program for the past four years has been an honor,” Wait said, “especially being on varsity for those four years. I feel like I made so many bonds with so many different girls from previous years, and now coming up and having my own Senior Night just makes me reflect on all the previous players I played with. Now, seeing all these younger girls continuing to develop — that just means the world to me that they come out to support us and we can all enjoy this together. We need to make sure we don’t take these moments for granted, just because — with this season we’re having — we never know when the end of it is going to be.”
Unofficially, the Blazers were led offensively by Bell’s 15 kills while Wait added 7 blocks for points, two “drop shots”, and three aces. Mealman racked up 10 kills and two blocks for points, Boone recorded seven kills and eight blocks for points, Markos collected four kills and three blocks for points, and Njogu had three kills and two blocks for points.