No one really knew what Circle had. The Thunderbird volleyball team came into the season with mixed expectations and those around Butler County weren’t sure either.
Fast forward a couple of months and you know what you have: a sub-state championship and a consistent top 10 rankings.
For Circle Volleyball, their rise is no surprise to them. It’s a large part in why Circle is heading to the Class 4A State Tournament for the first time since 2011.
“We’re the best kept secret in Butler County,” Circle volleyball head coach Michelle Nibarger said. “We’re the best kept secret at Circle, too.”
The Thunderbirds showed why they are ranked seventh in the Kansas Volleyball Association rankings on Saturday. The T-Birds rolled through a tough regional that featured Buhler and El Dorado, teams that had both given Circle trouble before.
“I have three girls with sub-state experience,” Nibarger said. “The rest hadn’t been here before.”
Circle (33-6) was a sub-state runner-up last season and made it appoint to get back this season. They’ve done it through dominating the middle part of their schedule. A 15-game winning streak put Circle smack in the middle of the Class 4A rankings, where they’ve stayed at No.7 for the good part of the season. A late season loss to El Dorado woke Circle up from their dominant run.
“That loss to El Dorado caught our attention,” senior Shelby Reeder said.
They’ve responded from the loss by winning another 10 straight, making it 25 of their last 26 matches.
On Saturday, they made sure to take care of business. They dispatched Clay Center in straight sets, setting up the rematch with El Dorado.
The Wildcats were fresh off a surprising win over Buhler, but in reality were looking forward to Circle
“Buhler match was pretty easy,” El Dorado head coach Alyssa Rawlings said. “I think we were actually looking forward to Circle. That’s who you had to go through to get to state.”
Circle was waiting.
A match that was fit for Circle. A home match to go to state. The student section turned out.
“That was amazing,” Reeder said. “Our student section is usually half of that.”
Circle wasted no time going up 8-4 on El Dorado in the first set. They were able to expand that to double digits off winning long rallies. Any time a long rally would happen, it appeared Circle would be the benefactor of the point.
“That definitely helped us,” Nibarger said. “It’s always big when you can win those type of points.”
Circle jumped out 17-7 in the first set. They would be able to close the set out 25-15.
“That first set is what we needed,” Reeder said. “If you win that, you get the momentum.”
El Dorado started out controlling the second set. It was not until midway through the set that Circle made their move. Multiple winners and unforced Wildcat points helped Circle get back into it. From being down 12-11 to up 16-13, the Thunderbirds had put themselves into a position to win it.
A questionable point that would have leveled the set at 21-all was given a point to Circle, making it 22-20 and that’s all the space Circle needed.
“I’m really proud of how hard all of these girls work,” Nibarger said.
Circle will now travel to Hutch on Saturday for the Class 4A State Tournament. They’ll be the three seed in this weekend’s tournament. They’ll face Eudora first on Friday. Then Topeka Hayden and Independence. The first match is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
The top two seeds advance to Saturday’s semifinals.