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Trojans win small school showdown against St. Paul in McKay summer tournament

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Kennedy's Elise Suing (No. 4) and Hailey Arritola (No. 28) lead a junior class that ranks among the best in the state at the 2A level.Despite a packed field of teams that included the hosting 6A McKay Scots and the 5A state placing Dallas Dragons, the championship game of McKay's summer volleyball tournament on Thursday was decided by a pair of schools with a combined student body of less than 500 kids.

It was the former league rival Kennedy Trojans against the St. Paul Buckaroos, facing off on opposite sides of the court once again in a showcase of elite small school volleyball from the mid-valley.

And while the Bucks entered the contest as the defending 1A state champions, it was the Trojans who left as victories, coming back from an early 10-point deficit to stun the Bucks in a 2-0 (25-23, 25-19) win to claim the tournament title.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - After going 28-3 and losing back-to-back games in the 2A state tournament to end the 2018 season, the Kennedy volleyball team is eager for redemption this year."We started really slow," Kennedy head coach Laura Beyer said. "We were down 15-5 before you even knew it. Then we came back and played really solid defense and good blocking."

The contest was the final match of July for both teams, which have been competing twice a week at McKay High School for most of the month as the eight participating school prep for the coming fall season.

Like most schools, for Kennedy it was an opportunity to get its returning players back into the swing of things while taking advantage of the constantly in flux roster from week-to-week to give incoming and inexperienced players a chance to earn some reps against varsity-level play.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Senior Ibeth Gomez gives the Trojans a dependable back line defender and setter."I didn't have one single night where we had the same players show up," Beyer said. "That's what it's all about. Get a lot of experience, get a lot of touches. It was a different group every night."

The Trojans are actually in the advantageous position of not having to replace a lot of minutes this fall. While the team graduated its best offensive weapon in All-State outside hitter Hallie Sprauer and a solid defender in middle blocker Kalyssa Kleinschmit, the rest of the team remains intact.

But those two losses create a ripple effect down the lineup, touching each player and forcing Beyer to consider how her team will react to new roles. "It gives me time to experiment with different offenses," she said. "Using different people with different positions."

While the team is junior heavy, the Trojans' top offensive player at the net will likely be senior Sophia Carley. At six feet, she's one of the few players with height on the team and gives Kennedy its defensive backbone heading into the 2019 season.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Junior Ellie Cantu will take over the lead offensive role for the Trojans this year, working as both a setter and outside hitter."I expect she'll be the best hitter and blocker in our league," Beyer said. "She's looking at having a really strong senior year."

Likewise, junior Ellie Cantu will have a similar impact on the offensive side of the court, splitting time between setting and taking over Sprauer's role as the team's primary hitter.

"She's hands down the best setter in our league and probably many others," Beyer said. "She's just so solid."

On the back line, senior Ibeth Gomez and juniors Elise Suing and Hailey Arritola give the team a strong defensive core that has some versatility. Gomez can act as setter along with Cantu, while Suing and Arritola have a similar skill set as athletes who can defend the back while also making plays at the net.

"I've been having (Arritola) do some hitting at the summer games, and she is just a natural at so many things and is so skilled athletically, so I can see where she will be developed into a strong position," Beyer said. "I think what we lack on our size...they can make up with their jumping ability, athleticism, court awareness and being able to see."

Junior Rylie Newton returns as another solid blocker at the net, and 5-10 classmate Emma Beyer stands to see more playing time as another blocking option on an otherwise small team.

With tryouts still ahead in August, the varsity roster is not set in stone, and roles will still be defined over the course of the next month. But with most of the players returning from last year's fifth-place team that was 28-3 and ranked No. 1 in the state at the 2A level for much of the 2018 season, the Trojans once again loom as a championship contender that will be hunting for another title to bring home to John F. Kennedy High School.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The Kennedy Trojans.

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