INDEPENDENCE — For more than three decades, Kristi Speicher has chalked up win after win after win as head coach of the Independence High School volleyball team. Yet, Speicher isn’t one to count all those wins … or even think of the many accolades she has received over the years.
For her, it’s all about the kids and the program she has built into a consistent winner. From a Class 5A runner-up finish in 1992 to a school-record 37 wins and second straight state tournament appearance a year ago, the Lady Bulldogs have been steady throughout her long career that includes more than 500 victories.
“I’ve coached a long time,” said Speicher, who begins her 34th season at Independence tonight (Aug. 30) at the Labette County Quad in Altamont. “I’m not an arrogant person at all. I hope and I know from a lot of wins that I like what I do, and I think I do a decent job. I can get along with my girls pretty good and can get them to work hard for me. It’s not just knowing what to do but getting the girls to work for you and believe in you as a coach. That’s just as important to me.”
IHS has chalked up five straight 20-win seasons, with back-to-back trips to the Class 4A-Division I State Tournament in Salina. Although she has not kept track of her overall record during her tenure, she has likely well surpassed 500 wins for a career … all at one school.
“The thing that stands out for me is that when people play us, they know we come to play,” Speicher said. “We might not always have the tallest girls and some years we might not have the best record, but we will be competitive, and Independence will come to play. Independence always improves throughout the season.”
Speicher opened her IHS career by taking the Lady Bulldogs to state in five of her first eight years. Yet, there was a 23-year gap between state appearances until making it the last two years.
“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t frustrating,” Speicher said. “We had some close calls and competed well. We had decent records. The thing that made it more difficult was we dropped down to 4A. Some of the times we went to state before that, we only had four teams in our sub-state, and a couple of times we weren’t as good as I’ve had teams better in later years that didn’t get to go. Part of it is who you draw in your sub-state.
“I like to have fun, and I like to win. Don’t get me wrong … I hate to lose. I like going to state, but I don’t really look at going to state as the ultimate goal of my girls throughout the season. There’s so many other things that go along with it. Watching the girls improve and get better. Watching the girls work as a team and develop that camaraderie. Those are skills they’re going to carry throughout their whole life … not just Independence volleyball. Those are life skills. Anybody that plays a team sport should want to develop those skills in life. It’s not all about me … it’s we.”
One of the big highlights in Speicher’s career continues to be her 1992 squad that ended with a 35-3 overall record and state runner-up finish in Class 5A.
“I knew we would go to state because I knew how good they were,” Speicher said. “At that point early on, I would say the teams in the SEK weren’t near as strong. We just basically manhandled everybody in league. No one was even close. We were much better from the year before. A lot of the girls were seniors, and some of them had played varsity since they were sophomores. We ended up having the Volleyball Player of the Year in the entire state. It was a huge accomplishment. You’re there and you live the moment and you see it. But when it’s over, you get to thinking ‘Oh my gosh … it really did happen.’ All these things were happening, and it was like a fairy tale. It was just a dream come true.”
2018 LADY BULLDOG PREVIEW
There’s good reason to think Independence will continue its trend of success in 2018 with Speicher on the bench.
A year ago, the Lady Bulldogs won a school-record 28 consecutive matches, but they also claimed tournament championships at Eureka and Cherryvale. Included in that win streak were 11 straight league victories that led the team to its first Southeast Kansas League championship since 2001 and fifth in program history. IHS won two of its three matches in pool play at state but lost out of a trip to the final four based on the tiebreaker.
Independence closed out the season with 37 wins — a new school record that surpassed the previous best mark of 35 set during its 1992 Class 5A runner-up season.
“It was a tremendous season,” Speicher said. “We reached all of our goals except getting to the final four in the state tournament. SEK Champs, sub-state champs and brand new school record for most wins in a season. It sets a good example of what I want to happen every year.”
Now the Lady Bulldogs return three starters and six letter winners overall from last year’s squad.
Leading the way will be junior Kate Gordon. The 5-7 middle hitter was the team leader in aces (47), kills (195) and blocks (138) a year ago as she was a unanimous All-SEK First Team selection. She also had a spiking accuracy of 81 percent and a serving percentage of 92 percent.
Also returning to the starting lineup are 5-7 senior outside hitter Taylor Howland and 5-8 junior setter Kaylee Bollig. Howland was an all-around player last season, finishing with 90 kills, 243 service points, 30 blocks, 23 digs and 14 aces in earning All-SEK Second Team honors. Bollig had a team-high in assists.
In addition to those starters, other returning players for IHS this season include senior outside hitter Raygan Cunningham, junior outside hitter Kate Kleiber and junior Libero Laney Wood.
“Our experience will be a tremendous plus for us again this season,” Speicher said. “Playing together in previous seasons makes things run smoother when we begin the season.”
2018 INDEPENDENCE SCHEDULE — Aug. 30: Labette County Quad (Labette County/Parsons/Pittsburg); Sept. 4: Independence Triangular (Cherryvale/Leon-Bluestem); Sept. 8: Eureka Invitational; Sept. 10: Neodesha Triangular (Caney Valley/Neodesha); Sept. 11: Independence Quad (*Fort Scott/*Labette County); Sept. 18: Coffeyville Triangular (*Coffeyville/*Parsons); Sept. 22: Cherryvale-Sharon Wadman Charger Classic; Sept. 25: Coffeyville Quad (*Chanute/*Pittsburg); Oct. 2: Fort Scott Quad (*Fort Scott/*Labette County); Oct. 9: Independence Triangular (*Coffeyville/*Parsons); Oct. 11: Coffeyville Triangular (Columbus/Coffeyville); Oct. 13: Garnett-Anderson County Invitational; Oct. 16: Chanute Quad (*Chanute/*Pittsburg)
*Southeast Kansas League Matches