Platte County senior Madison Hoyt hits a spike for match point in a three-set sweep of St. Michael's the Archangel on Saturday at Platte County High School. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Platte County with more shots at program history after earning Class 4 state return

With almost entirely new cast, Pirates looking to build on 2020 team’s 3rd-place finish after toppling SMA in quarterfinals.
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Platte County players celebrate after closing out a three-set victory over St. Michael’s the Archangel in a Class 4 state quarterfinal Saturday at Platte County High School.

Confidence never wavered — not during a somewhat slow start nor after a pair of unexpected disappointments late in the regular season.

Platte County’s lineup always consisted of the potential, even with a relative lack of experience amid a unique blend of mostly upper classmen. The Pirates delivered Saturday with an impressive 25-22, 25-14, 25-21 victory over St. Michael’s the Archangel (SMA) in a Class 4 quarterfinal at Platte County High School, sending the program back to the state final four for a second time in three seasons.

One final swing from senior middle blocker Madison Hoyt provided the winning kill and set off another postseason celebration for Platte County, which has won four straight since going into Class 4 District 8 play off of back-to-back five-set losses to Grain Valley and Blue Springs South.

Platte County junior Emma Harned sets the ball against St. Michael’s the Archangel in a Class 4 state quarterfinal on Saturday at Platte County High School.

“We’ve had a couple of hard stories the past couple of losses with those five-set losses at home,” Platte County coach Katlyn Donovan said. “Honestly, I feel like we’ve been playing our best volleyball — regardless of those losses — toward the last half of the season. We knew we could do this.”

Platte County (26-9) has now won more than 25 matches for the fourth time in five years during an unprecedented run of success under Donovan’s guidance. The Pirates have recorded at least 22 victories in each of the six seasons since she took over.

In 2021, Platte County briefly moved up to Class 5 and suffered a five-set loss to Park Hill in the District 8 title game, losing the final three sets of a heartbreaking finish to the careers of an accomplished senior class that included four starters. The Pirates retooled this year with junior setter Emma Harned inheriting a key position, while junior Kendall Johnson and senior Karsyn Stehlik took on featured roles in the attack with the support of burgeoning sophomore Karlee Riggs and Madison Hoyt ascended into a starting role where she excelled as the centerpiece of an occasionally stifling block with junior middle hitter Tatianna Murray.

Add the the talented group of juniors providing a rotation of defensive options in Avery Walter, Jenna Wheeler, Ava Wheeler and Ava Filger and Platte County found the right mix to take advantage of the return to Class 4.

Platte County senior Karsyn Stehlik passes the ball against St. Michael’s the Archangel during a Class 4 state quarterfinal Saturday at Platte County High School.

“A lot of the girls we have on the team this year had that taste a couple years ago, and going into last year thinking we were going to be Class 4, we weren’t,” Donovan said. “We told them in their exit interviews last season that if we can come in committed and do what we need to do that we have a really good shot of making it back to quarterfinals, to state. We’re excited that they put in all the hard work and effort since May to get to this point in their career. We just have a great group of girls that trusts us, that does what we need to do and came up with a win.”

The contributions were predictably spread out against SMA (27-6-1).

Harned (three aces, 27 assists), Walter (team-high 14 digs, two aces) and Jenna Wheeler (10 digs, two aces) all provided key service runs early for Platte County, while Murray (seven), Hoyt (four) and Johnson (four) combined for most of the Pirates’ 11 blocks in a dominating second set. Johnson (team-high 11 kills), Stehlik (seven kills) Riggs (six kills) and Hoyt (four kills) each took turns in the attack to help overcome a brief deficit and close out the third set as the Guardians made one final attempt at a comeback to extend the match.

“Especially because we won the first two (sets), by the third (set) we really had all the momentum,” Hoyt said. “At that point, we just really want to finish it off, and I think we did a good job of fighting back.”

In front of a sizable and excitable crowd, the two teams were tight early.

Walter provided the first of her two aces to put Platte County up 4-3 early, and the first separation came on three unanswered points capped with another ace from Jenna Wheeler to make it 11-8. SMA took a timeout, but the momentum continued out of the stoppage with Johnson’s spike from well back of the net providing a kill to push the advantage to 14-8.

After a sideout, Riggs started a 4-0 run with a kill that would include two of Harned’s aces.

Platte County junior Jenna Wheeler hits a pass against St. Michael’s the Archangel in a Class 4 state quarterfinal Saturday at Platte County High School.

SMA saw an 8-8 tie to expand to an 18-9 deficit, but the Guardians would fight back to close within one three different times. Platte County avoided allowing a tie, and a kill from Riggs was part of a closing sequence that allowed the Pirates to take the 1-0 set lead.

“I think it was just a little bit of a relief, and I think we played a little more comfortable in that second set,” Donovan said.

Platte County never trailed in the second with Walter’s second ace part of an early 3-0 run, and SMA took a timeout down 6-2. The Pirates would push out to a 12-7 and then 19-8. The extended run included a combined block from Hoyt and Johnson, and the duo were part of another soon after that made it 21-10.

“Because they run a lot on their right side, it was especially easy since Kendall’s already over there that we were just always right next to each other when a good hit was there to block,” Hoyt said.

Ava Wheeler added an ace to make it 22-10 — the largest lead of the match for either team — and a service error closed out the second set to put Platte County up 2-0. The Pirates then gave up the the first point of the third set but came back with four unanswered with Harned contributing her third and final ace. Their lead hit 8-2 before an SMA timeout, only for it to extend to 10-2.

Platte County junior Kendall Johnson hits a serve in front of the home student section during a Class 4 state quarterfinal against St. Michael’s the Archangel on Saturday at Platte County High School.

Platte County went a lengthy period of the match without allowing a big run but the sweep wouldn’t come out without some dramatics.

“Besides that run they had (in the first set), they were one and done, maybe two points,” Donovan said. “We’re always anticipating (a big run), but we did a good job of keeping the ball off the floor. We had smart swings, and that’s what we need to do to win. Keep our errors small; keep our errors little.”

SMA’s 6-1 run closed the gap to 11-8 and forced a timeout from Donovan. The Guardians then added two more to trim the deficit to one point and start a back-and-forth segment of the third set that would end up at a 15-15 tie.

Hoyt forced the final deadlock with a kill, and Murray and Stehlik combined on a block and Riggs followed with a kill to ensure Platte County wouldn’t trail again. Stehlik broke a 20-20 tie with a kill, and a combined block from Johnson and Hoyt made it 23-20. Hoyt’s kill moments later provided what will likely be the final point ever recorded in the current varsity gymnasium. The Pirates’ final two games this season will be at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau, and the new fieldhouse is slated to open this winter.

“It was just really exciting,” Hoyt said. “Whenever the games are that close, especially at the end for the win, everyone is just on edge, and everyone wants to get the ball and finish off that final point.”

“It feels amazing to do it on our home court to finish the 59-year history of this gym with a win for volleyball,” Donovan added, “and it leads us to state so we’re ecstatic about it.”

Platte County senior Karsyn Stehlik and junior Tatianna Murray combine on a block against St. Michael’s the Archangel in a Class 4 state quarterfinal Saturday at Platte County High School.

Platte County’s journey to this point included a season-opening loss in three sets to rival Kearney, and the record sat at 3-2 after the first two games of the Lansing Invitational in early September. The Pirates closed that difficult tournament with three straight victories to start an 11-match winning streak.

From there, Platte County sprinted toward a fourth straight league title, winning the crown in a debut season in the Suburban Conference White Division. However, the Pirates’ saw a 46-match conference win streak come to an end with the five-set loss to Grain Valley on October 13 before finishing the regular season with a disappointing loss to Class 5 Blue Springs South.

Platte County predictably responded to the adversity with wins, sweeping Kansas City East and Smithville to reach the Class 4 District 8 final. That set up a rematch with Kearney, and after dropping the opening set, the Pirates took the next three to forge a playoff return.

Incidentally, Platte County’s last three seasons with at least 25 wins finished with an exact total of 28. The Pirates could match that with a pair of wins this week at state, but first thing’s first.

Platte County knows a win in Thursday’s semifinal with Westminster Christian (30-2-5) would send the program to a first-ever state championship game appearance. The Pirates finished third in 2020 in their only other final four appearance. Only Stehlik appeared in both of those state matches with Ava Wheeler also making a brief cameo in the third-place game win over Nerinx Hall.

“We are such a close team as of right now,” Hoyt said. “We have grown so close together. I’m just so excited. I obviously want to go far at state and the final four, but I just think the experience of getting to go is just going to be enough for me.”

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