They just might be the hottest team in the Region VI.
The Barton Community College volleyball team certainly is a contender for that mantle.
The Lady Cougars closed out Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Western Division play with a five-match winning streak. That streak is matched only by Hutchinson, which won its final five matches in West play as well. All of the eight Region VI Division-I teams compete in the Jayhawk West.
The Lady Cougars will start their quest for a 22nd Region VI title tonight at 6:30 when Cloud County pays a visit to Kirkman Activity Center for opening-round action.
Barton will be the No. 4 seed in the event while the Thunderbirds come in as the No. 5 seed.
Barton is 12-18 overall this year and finished 8-6 in the West. Cloud is 12-13 overall and was 7-7 in the West.
Barton not only won its final five matches to secure a home playoff spot and did so finishing the regular season with a win over Jayhawk West co-champ Colby on the Trojans home floor.
The win kept Colby from finishing as the outright conference champion and the host of the Region’s double-elimination portion of the event. Instead, Colby ended up sharing the title with Hutchinson.
Hutchinson won the tiebreaker with Colby and with that, will host the four-team double-elimination portion of the Region VI tournament on Nov. 10-11.
Barton first-year head coach Phil Shoemaker likes how his team finished, but is quick to note that the postseason is a new season.
“Last week is long gone, and while we can hope to carry forward much of the game plan, we know we will need to improve our performance,” Shoemaker said. “This is the playoffs, and a whole new ball game.”
One of those five straight wins came against Cloud County when Barton beat the Thunderbirds in straight sets.
“We played pretty well against Cloud last week, worked hard to keep them a bit out of balance, and I think we had two or three pretty strong rotations which helped with some of the individual matchups,” Shoemaker said. “Overall, we played with composure, and we were able to dictate the pace and flow of the match with ball control.”
The Lady Cougars hitting attack has been led this year by a trio of sophomores.
McKenzie Piland has 334 kills on the year, averaging 3.12 per set. The Wichita Heights product has played in all 107 sets over 30 matches.
Cheney native Mackenzie Orchard is second on the team with 283 kills — good for 2.64 kills per set.
Weskan graduate Jori Mote, who missed five matches this year, finished with 259 kills — 2.94 per set.
Freshman Lakyn Rowden and Casey Friesen led Barton in setting with Rowden recording 491 assists and Friesen 461. Both averaged more than five assists per set.
Sophomore Kiara Rivera led Barton with 25 service aces followed by Jennica O’Neill with 24 and Hoisington freshman Mykela Riedl with 23.
Defensively Rivera went to the floor for 400 digs on the season with O’Neill collecting an even 300. Freshman middle Jenna Reid led the team in blocks with 92.
The Lady Cougars will need to be at the top of their game to move onto the next phase of the Region VI tournament.
“I certainly think that Cloud will come in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder considering last week’s outcome, so I would expect them to be fully ready to compete,” Shoemaker said. “Cloud has some talented athletes, both offensively and defensively, but so do we, and I am sure it will be an intense contest.
“I like our chances, and we are really glad to be playing in front of our fans, which have been great this season.”
The region does not have a dominate squad, with no team ranked in the Top 25 in the NJCAA poll. Hutchinson and Colby both posted 12-2 marks in the conference with the Blue Dragons going 23-10 overall and the Trojans 23-8.
Seward was the only other team to have a winning record on the year going 20-13 with a 10-4 West record.
Hutchinson will open play against the No. 8 seed Dodge City. The Conquistadors were just 1-13 in the West and finished the season 6-27.
Colby opens at home against No. 7 seed Pratt, which finished 3-13 in the West and 6-22 overall.
The other first-round matchup has No. 6 Garden City and No. 3 Seward. The Broncbusters were 4-10 in the conference and 8-20 overall. All first round matches are tonight.
The four winners will move to the double-elimination tournament in Hutchinson.