Community celebrates Lady Chargers' win

SALINA—With grit, determination, the support of three communities and a little bit of luck, the Santa Fe Trail Lady Chargers brought home the Class 4A Div. II State Volleyball Championship Friday and Saturday in Salina.

“I think the whole experience from Friday to Sunday was pretty magical. It was pretty incredible,” said SFT coach Joy Schmidt. “Everything around it fell into place.”

The Lady Chargers rolled into the state tournament as the third seed with a sub-state title and 35-4 overall record. The team set out for the Bicentennial Center in Salina, but not before consuming a breakfast, pep rally and a bit of tradition.

“We started out with a pancake breakfast Friday morning before we left,” Schmidt said. “(The parents) decorated the busses, and the girls watched the state 1999 team.”

The girls viewed the experience of playing and winning a state title from the second most recent set of champions. The Lady Chargers had previously earned titles in 1990, 1996, 1999 and 2005, and were making their 15th trip to the state tournament.

The Lady Chargers arrived at the Fairfield Inn in Salina and were told all other guests had been transferred. The Santa Fe Trail team and supporters would be the only guests.

“They said, ‘This is Santa Fe Trail week at our hotel,” Schmidt said. “They used up all the double beds. We had the whole hotel.”

After checking in, the Lady Chargers made their way to Bicentennial Center for a 4:30 p.m. start. Coach Schmidt began the day with her usual routine.

“One of my nervous habits is to clean my area,” Schimdt said. “I picked up a penny on the ground. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a penny and it’s heads up. This is a good sign.’”

The sign was followed up with solid play, where SFT opened pool play with a 25-19, 25-14 dispatching of sixth-seeded Clay Center before knocking down seventh-seeded Jefferson West 25-18 and 25-17. The second match win turned the head of Topeka Capital-Journal sports writer Brent Maycock, who tweeted, “Jefferson West’s Olivia Brees, 6-2, is a force at the net. Trail’s Jaeden Romine and Shelby Dahl are forces everywhere.”

“The girls were absolutely on fire,” Schmidt said. “They didn’t fold. They showed the grit at the end.”

Pool play ended with a three-game battle with second-seeded Wichita Trinity Academy. The Lady Chargers took the first game 25-23, but fell 25-15 and 25-22 in subsequent games. The 2-1 finish on the day was enough to propel the Lady Chargers on to the second day of play.

The team returned to the hotel and started the next morning with a pep rally before returning to the tournament.

“It was great,” Schmidt said. “We checked out at noon. They went over, went to the parking lot, organized an informal pep rally in the parking lot. All the coaches talked, we had a tape from the band, and a dance off. It was a perfect day.”

The pep rally rolled into the semifinal game back at Bicentennial Center, where the Lady Chargers rolled Frontenac 25-22, 25-13. Wichita Trinity defeated top-seeded Burlington 25-15, 25-22 in the other semifinal to set up a rematch for the championship.

The Lady Chargers were set for the final, especially senior Jaeden Romine, who was called out in a tweet the night before by Trinity’s Annie Friesen, which simply read, “Annie over Jaeden.”

“That fired Jaeden up,” Schmidt said. “She didn’t respond negatively. She just said, ‘We’ll see when it comes to the finals.’ That was a fatal mistake on Annie’s part.”

SFT took the first game decisively, 25-16. Wichita came back in the second with a 25-23 win to put the match at 1-1.

“We got ahead in the third game, which was good,” Schmidt said, noting that stopping Friesen was a key to beating Trinity. “She was their big gun, and I think we beat her mentally. Just keep hitting, that’s what works.”

The Lady Chargers’ determination was evident in big plays, some larger than the court.

“Megan (Zaldivar) made an awesome save,” Schimidt said. “That’s what turned the game. She got that ball up, sent it to someone who cross-court set it. It was so far off the court we couldn’t get it on the video tape. When you make electrifying plays like that, it just sends chills. It’s unbelievable.”

Schmidt said she knew it was in the bag when the team’s cool center, Shelby Dahl, finally let loose.

“She’s pretty calm,” Schmidt said. “When I saw here double-fist pump and smile, I knew we had it.”

The Lady Chargers closed with a 25-18 win to take the match, the tournament and the championship.

“Our side with our fans for the last two games,” Schmidt said. “It was just perfect. I couldn’t write the script any better.”

Schmidt put a large amount of stock in the support of friends, family and fans.

“It’s just a wonderful experience,” Schmidt said. “All of these people came back, it was just great. People who’d never watched a volleyball game in their life. You get a real sense of community.”

The camaraderie continued with a group breakfast Sunday morning in Salina, followed by a surprise pep rally upon the Lady Chargers’ return to SFT High School.

“I knew there was going to be people there, but I didn’t know what they had planned,” Schmidt said. “I looked up, and all of a sudden, I saw fireworks going up. They see all these cars and they’re screaming.”

Schmidt introduced each player as they exited the bus.

“They formed a tunnel, playing, ‘We Are the Champions,’” Schmidt said. “They did about 15 minutes of fireworks like you see on Fourth of July. It was great, just so exciting. There were 200 people there, the football players and lots of people from the community that couldn’t make it out there.”

Players, coaches and former coaches returned home to toilet papered houses. The celebration continued with a pep rally Tuesday morning – one more hooray for the state-champion seniors – Megan Zaldivar, Shelby Dahl, Jaeden Romine, Ashton Mentzer, Veronica Forbes, Jessica Abendroth, Amber Moore and Dee Rinehart– who wrapped up a dream season, and high school volleyball careers, at SFT.

Class 4A Div. II State
Tournament at Salina

Pool I—Burlington def. Larned, 25-15, 25-12; Frontenac def. Goodland, 25-19, 25-23; Frontenac def. Burlington, 25-22, 25-17; Goodland def. Larned, 25-16, 25-10; Burlington def. Goodland, 25-18, 25-21.

POOL II—Wichita Trinity def. Jefferson West, 25-17, 25-21; Santa Fe Trail def. Clay Center, 25-19, 25-14; Wichita Trinity def. Clay Center, 25-11, 25-15; Santa Fe Trail def. Jefferson West, 25-18, 25-17; Clay Center def. Jefferson West, 25-18, 24-26, 25-12; Wichita Trinity def. Santa Fe Trail, 23-25, 25-15, 25-22.

Semifinals – Santa Fe Trail def. Frontenac, 25-22, 25-13; Wichita Trinity def. Burlington, 25-15, 25-22.

Third place – Burlington def. Frontenac, 25-22, 25-16.

Championship – Santa Fe Trail def. Wichita Trinity, 25-16, 23-25, 25-18.

The Osage County Herald-Chronicle

The official newspaper of Osage County; the cities of Burlingame, Carbondale, Lyndon, Melvern, Olivet, Osage City, Overbrook, Quenemo and Scranton; Burlingame USD 454, Lyndon USD 421, Marais des Cygnes Valley USD 456, Osage City USD 420 and Santa Fe Trail USD 434.

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