The Hickman girls’ volleyball team entered this season with senior leadership, depth and confidence that it could have a successful season.
The Kewpies hoped to win the district title, but they didn’t expect their undefeated start. Hickman is 21-0 after winning at Helias 25-12, 25-9 on Monday.
Coach Greg Gunn said he expected his team to play well this season, but predicting how many matches it would win was not something he did.
“We talked about playing every game to win,” Gunn said. “We didn’t sit down and put a number on it. We thought we could beat anyone on our schedule, and the potential to have an unbeaten season, but that wasn’t a goal. It was just something that came up in our discussions.”
Hickman has seven seniors: Paige Ely, Sharin Muskrat, Danielle Newton, Alex Ristow, Brenna Schlader, Veronica Smith and Naomi Tesfamikael. They were key players on last season’s team that lost in the second round of the district tournament.
They came into this season more focused and determined to take that next step of reaching the state playoffs. Hickman most recently won a district tournament in 1991.
Gunn said that this team is more experienced than any team he has had.
“We have players skilled in all areas, they are good all-around players,” he said. “They can pass, set, hit, play defense. We have players that can do that at just about every position.”
Tesfamikael said that the Kewpies want to win the district title but are not looking beyond that. Tesfamikael said she doesn’t think of the Kewpies as 21-0, rather approaching the next game as they are 0-0.
Schlader said she started to focus on this season as soon as last year was over.
“We all wanted to go really far this season with it being now or never,” Schlader said. “We wanted to win as many games as possible and really wanted to win districts.”
Gunn said the team jelled playing together on a club team in the summer and they entered the fall confident. He also said it helps the team’s chemistry that the players get along well off the court as well as on.
Hickman has a deep team that is solid in every aspect of the game, hitting, passing, serving and on defense.
“Some teams have only a good passer or a good setter, “Schlader said. “But you have to have all areas for a team to connect like we do.”
The Kewpies were confident at the start of the season that they could play well, but with each win the team has built momentum and feel as if they can win every night.
“We are more focused,” Tesfamikael said. “We didn’t come together last year; we didn’t have that focus that we could do this and take it seriously. This year, we’ve buckled down and focused on the problems that we’ve had and worked hard to correct them, so we’ll be ready in game situations.”
Gunn said that some people are afraid of being undefeated, but he said he feels his team uses it as a positive.
“It carries the burden that people are out to knock you off and that’s true,” Gunn said. “That’s an incentive for other people to try and give us our first loss. But it gives our girls an incentive, too, to work hard to hold on to it. We won’t give it up easy.”
Schlader said Hickman doesn’t want to allow any opponent the right to say that they beat the undefeated Kewpies and ended the streak. She said that is why the team approaches every game as it’s the last game of the year.
Hickman is deep with a balanced offense and therefore has won even when players have off nights, but the team needs to gain consistency.
Gunn said the team has accomplished numerous steps that have helped build the team’s confidence. The Kewpies defeating Jefferson City, winning the St. Charles tournament, where Hickman had never made it out of pool play before, winning the McCluer North tournament and defeating defending Hermann, Class 2 state champion, were among those steps.
“We’ve been confident all along the way,” Gunn said. “We keep getting stronger and they’re used to winning now and they’ve come to expect to win. They have that kind of attitude.”