HANNIBAL — For all the successes the seniors on the Hannibal volleyball team have enjoyed in their careers, one goal has eluded them.
That’s a district championship.
"I think we get in our own heads," senior outside hitter Peyton Utterback said. "So then we aren’t really focused on the game. It’s definitely a confidence thing."
That’s shown in the last three years of district play. Hannibal hasn’t advanced past the second round despite going a combined 61-41-1 in that stretch.
"There’s a lot of good teams in that district," senior outside hitter Abby Baumann said.
It’s different this year.
Hannibal’s new Class 4 district assignment includes schools from Columbia like Battle, Hickman and Rock Bridge. Troy Buchanan and Warrenton make up the rest of the district field.
It gave the Pirates a new sense of confidence.
"We know these teams in the district because we’ve played them before," senior hitter Kaylee Falconer said. "We’re more confident because we think it’s attainable now."
There’s reason for that.
Hannibal played Rock Bridge, Battle and Troy Buchanan last year, and went 2-1 in those matches. The loss was a three-set decision to Rock Bridge earlier in the year. The Pirates beat the Spartans and Trojans both in straight sets.
Hannibal also returns five seniors from a team that went 22-10-1 last season, and currently has won 18 straight North Central Missouri Conference matches. Add a few new pieces like sophomore Bella Falconer at setter and the Pirates believe a district title is possible.
That’s why first-year coach Megan Phillips isn’t changing what’s made the Pirates successful. Phillips coached the junior varsity team and served as an assistant under former coach Kelsey Whitley, who resigned in the offseason.
Her knowledge of the players, and the players knowing her, made the transition smoother.
"It’s just a little tweaks here and there," Phillips said. "But it’s still the same system. We just bring back a lot, and that’s made for a really good transition for us.
"It was really one of those things of not trying to fix something that wasn’t broken."
That allows the Pirates to focus on their goal.
It’s the one they’ve still yet to accomplish.
"That’d mean so much," senior Emma Deien said. "I honestly feel like I could cry right now just thinking about winning it."