By RICK PETERSON
Topeka High's volleyball team had its ups and downs, but the homestanding Trojans were at their best when it counted the most Wednesday night, pulling away down the stretch to take a three-set win over Topeka West and claim bragging rights in the annual USD 501 triangular.
The Trojans, who improved to 8-9 on the season, opened the night with a 25-8, 25-16 win over Highland Park and then avenged an earlier loss to Topeka West with a 26-24, 22-25, 25-18 win.
Topeka West, now 17-7 on the season, rolled to a 25-4, 25-15 win over Highland Park before the tough loss to Topeka High, the Chargers' first loss to the Trojans in four years.
"I think the difference was definitely how hard we tried and how we worked together as a team,'' said Topeka High junior Jo'Mhara Benning, who excelled as a setter and hitter while also having considerable success serving the ball for the Trojans. "We just tried our best to keep each other up.
"We have been playing really well as a team. We have our moments, but I think overall we're playing pretty good.''
Benning said being able to beat the Trojans' district rivals in the All-501 triangular was a big highlight.
"They're definitely rivals and it just tells us that we can do it if we just play together as a team,'' Benning said. "Beating Topeka West and Highland Park is an achievment and I'm proud of the team.''
So was Topeka High coach Bridget Bargmann.
"I'm excited,'' Bargmann said. "I love my girls and you see all the fight and everything on the court, so it's always fun to watch.''
And Bargmann said it was a feather in the Trojans' cap to best their district rivals.
"It's always fun, especially when it's on your home court,'' Bargmann said. "We lost to West at Emporia already this season so it's one of those that this was not revenge, but we needed it and it's a good quality win.
"West is a good team and they're well-coached.''
West jumped out to 9-3 and 11-4 leads in the opening set against High, but the Trojans slowly chipped away at the Charger lead, with three straight kills from Benning cutting High's deficit to 13-11.
West built its lead back to 16-11 on a kill from senior Addi Brooks and the Chargers led 21-16 after a kill from freshman Sydney Van Dyke but Topeka High battled back to forge ties at 22 and 24 before back-to-back kills from Kenya German closed out the two-point win.
High led 11-6 in the second set but Topeka West reeled off eight straight points to go up 14-11 on a kill from senior Brooklyn Alexander.
High got within 21-19, 23-21 and 24-22 before the Chargers forced a third set with a three-point win.
The Trojans scored the first four points of the rubber match, including a kill from freshman Campbell Dawson, but West battled back to tie the set at 13 before a Charger serving error put Topeka High up for good.
The serving error started a 6-0 run by the Trojans, capped by a Benning kill at 19-13 and the Chargers got no closer than 20-17 the rest of the way.
"Obviously when we come to Topeka and play in The Dungeon, it's always a hard night,'' Topeka West coach Alyx Nash said. "You've got the crowd over the top of you, they've got a great student section, so I'm not upset with our play on the court.
"I am upset that the times we had the momentum coming back our way we just let go of things that we could have controlled. You can't have eight missed serves and expect to win, not against a team like this.''
Topeka High's opening match win over Highland Park started with a 7-0 start to the opening set and the Trojans went up 21-3 after a Benning kill, a Dawson serving ace and a kill from sophomore Jayana Washington.
Another kill from Washington ended the 25-8 win.
Highland Park played much better in the second set against the Trojans, including a brief lead at 13-12, but High rallied to go in front 21-14 and 24-15 before closing out the match.
Topeka West reeled off 14 straight points to open its match against the Scots behind the dominant serving of senior Jaya Miller, which included multiple aces, and Highland Park got no closer than 17-3 in the West romp.
Miller gave West an early 4-0 advantage in the second set, including a pair of aces, but the Scots were much more competitive in the second set although the Chargers were never seriously threatened.
Topeka High def. Highland Park, 25-8, 25-16; Topeka West def. Highland Park, 25-4, 25-15; Topeka High def. Topeka West, 26-24, 22-25, 25-18.