Great Bend’s Luna voted POY
In doing so, Garcia earned the WAC Coach of the Year honor by her peers.
The Lady Reds went on to win the 6A sub-state the following week to qualify for 6A state for the first time since 2008 and completed their season with a 27-11 record.
Individually, runner-up Great Bend’s Valerie Luna, a senior middle blocker, was voted the WAC Player of the Year by the five coaches.
Garcia said rebuilding the Lady Reds program has been a steady upward climb since returning four years ago.
“Just seeing their faces and getting that last point to win with all the pressure was so rewarding,” said Garcia, who just completed her second year at the program’s helm. “We had a great season and I couldn’t be happier for these girls who have invested so much into the program.”
When Garcia returned to home town, she became the junior varsity coach, then moved up to assistant varsity coach before taking the reins at the beginning of the 2021 season.
In her first 10 games on the bench, Garcia watched her team go 0-10. Then, things changed. They turned the season around and finished with a winning record and just missing out on a WAC title, losing out on a tiebreaker with Hays.
“The girls were so disappointed with that outcome,” Garcia said in recalling the 2021 season. “I think it made them come back and work just that much harder. They were not only hungry for it (WAC title), they were starving for it.”
The Lady Reds followed up their WAC championship with a sub-state title, again getting the job done on their home floor.
“It was so big to have both of those tournaments at home,” Garcia said. “Playing at home certainly had some pressure. During my high school days we had big success and to return and help bring back that winning atmosphere has made it all worthwhile.”
Luna’s veteran class of seniors began the rebuilding program as freshmen playing on the junior varsity and then as sophomores seeing varsity court time. It was in her first year that the turnaround really kicked into higher gear, she said.
“They took their lumps, but kept working every day and during the off-season and the summer,” Garcia said. “We went to three different volleyball camps to get an idea of where we were and what we needed to work on to get better.”
Early in the 2022 season, the Lady Reds were like a roller-coaster of sorts, finding themselves with a so-so 9-7 record and having lost three matches at a tournament to Emporia, Valley Center and Bishop Caroll.
“We had three different rotations we were working with, trying to find the right combination and to find their happy spots in the rotations,” Garcia said. “We finally got the right group going in a positive direction and it paid off.”
Indeed, the Lady Reds reeled off 12 consecutive match wins before a late-season road match at rival Garden City saw their win streak end in a three-set loss to the Lady Buffaloes. Perhaps it served as a wake-up call.
“It’s hard to beat a team more than twice and we have now played them five times,” Garcia said. “They’re a really good team and we had to try new things at WAC because they were so familiar with what we were trying to do.”
The WAC title coincided with the sub-state title, dating back to that 2008 season when the program last won the same two events.
“As a coach, you just try to find the most consistent players and you have to be perfect in scoring and consistent overall,” Garcia said. “We moved them all over the place but we found the ones who are more of a team player because it’s important in a team sport.”
Garcia said she believes her own playing experience has garnered a high level of trust amongst her players.
“I’ve been in their shoes and I can relate to what they’re going through,” Garcia said. “I can tell them what it’s like at the next level, too, and they have responded with a lot of hard work. I think they are now convinced they have more in them than they thought.”
The all-WAC first team was comprised of five seniors and one sophomore, giving credence to experience as being a big factor in many teams’ success.
Great Bend senior Valerie Luna led the way on the first team, joined by teammate Rylie Duvall, Liberal’s Lizzy Cisneros and Rylie Hallman, along with Hays senior Carly Lang and the lone underclassman, Garden City’s Piper Harris.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Upon learning from her Lady Panthers’ head coach, Shelly Duvall, that she had been named 2022 WAC Volleyball Player of the Year, Great Bend senior Valerie Luna was somewhat at a loss for words.
“I was shocked and grateful at the same time,” said the 5-7.05 middle blocker. “My senior year was pretty fun (the Lady Panthers finished 19-15 overall) and yet it had its ups and downs. But how we ended the season made it a special time to be with my teammates. Those girls are special and I love them all.”
Luna would not be considered tall to play the middle blocker position at her barely over 5-7 height. Yet, she compensates for that with an impressive vertical jump of 30 inches.
“Everything for me is about timing my jump for the potential block,” said Luna, who finished her final year with 100 blocks, 37 of them solo). “You always have to have your eyes on the ball and once it leaves the (other team) setter’s hand, your timing has to be spot on.”
In the typical six rotation lineup, Luna is in for just half of those, sitting out the times when she would be playing the back row.
“I serve in one rotation and then I’m in my middle blocker position,” Luna said. “I’ve had to work on my timing and being a better communicator on the court. We just say ‘ready, set’ for blocking.”
Luna also finished the season with 196 kills in her limited court time, while coming up with 63 digs on the defensive side of the net. She served at a 92.5 percentage. Her 2.6 kills per set topped the team’s stats and her hitting percentage of .225 was also tops on the team.
After graduation in the spring of 2023, Luna is undecided as to what her plans will be for possibly playing at the next level.
“I’ve had a couple of offers and I plan on going on some college visits soon,” Luna said. “I’m just not quite sure yet what I want to do. I might have the chance to play either middle or outside hitter.”
Academically, Luna is interested in pursuing a degree in early childhood development and if that doesn’t work out, then perhaps a career in criminal justice.
“I know they’re not even close to the same, but those are areas that are of interest to me,” she said.
A three-year starter for Duvall, Luna said she has improved dramatically since her first year in the lineup.
“My confidence level is 100 percent better than it was as a sophomore,” Luna said. “Then, it felt like I was just thrown in to a block party and now I’ve got my shoulders squared, my head up high and I know what I can do. I’ve become more open on the court with my teammates and started talking more and that has been a big area of my improvement.”
Western Athletic Conference – 2022
|Piper Harris||Garden City||So.|
|Rylie Duvall||Great Bend||Sr.|
Coach of the Year: Katie Garcia, Liberal
|Makenzie Lucas||Garden City||Sr.|
|Easha Potts||Dodge City||Jr.|
|Kierrah Pinchon||Garden City||Fr.|
|Mersadie Spray||Great Bend||Jr.|