LINCOLN — St. Cecilia has focused on and nearly perfected many of the little intricacies the game of volleyball requires.
The No. 1 seeded Hawkettes swept their way to the semifinals, defeating No. 8 Arcadia/Loup City 25-10, 25-12, 25-20 with a well-balanced attack, stout defense, and aggressive serving.
“Our kids were very well prepared for this,” STC head coach Alana VanCura said. “Our kids do a great job of executing what we want to do and our diversity with our players, I think, is big for us. It really makes it tough for opponents to key on any one player. We’ve got a lot of weapons. It was a good effort by our kids today.”
The Hawkettes (33-3) survived a shaky start and cruised to a 25-10 win in the opening set that established the tone for the match.
It took the first five points for St. Cecilia to find its comfortability at Lincoln Southwest High School.
Tori Thomas’ first kill of the match placed her at the service line, where she served six straight points to give the Hawkettes some breathing room.
Later on, Katherine Hamburger served five straight points, before sending one into the net. Thomas ended the set with her third kill.
In the second set, Hamburger found her stroke again behind the service line for six straight points, including a pair of aces, that pushed the Hawkettes in front by nine at that time.
St. Cecilia, which served 10 aces in the match, dished out six of them in the second set. Makenna Asher and Erin Sheehy each aced the Rebels three times.
“We have some kids that can serve a nice ball, a deep ball, and then the next one they’ll serve it short and catch them off guard. And if we don’t get the ace, they’ll send it right back over the net,” VanCura said. “We kind of mix it up a little bit. We’ve got some good servers.”
Arcadia/Loup City had difficulty, like most of the Hawkettes’ opponents have this season, in keeping track of STC’s arsenal of weapons.
Hamburger pounded a match-high 10 kills. Addie Kirkegaard and Thomas added eight apiece, Chloe McCauley tallied seven, and Asher struck five kills.
“Honestly, they’re an all-around team,” ALC head coach Dusti VanSlyke said of St. Cecilia. “Their isn’t really a weak spot on their team. If one person is off or getting blocked, they have another person to go to.”
St. Cecilia has primarily used the same seven players all season long. It’s clearly been a strength, with how well the Hawkettes are acquainted, but VanCura says it’s also been a blessing to not have dealt with any serious or extended injuries.
“We’ve been fortunate to play 36 matches and avoid injuries,” he said. “We’re only basically seven deep, and so you’ve got to have a little bit of luck on the way in that aspect.”
The Hawkettes pulled out to a two set advantage with relative ease, but faltered in the third set just enough to cause worry.
VanCura called a timeout when STC’s lead shrunk from seven points to three at 19-16. The Hawkettes responded with four straight points, including two of their six blocks in the set, coupled with a Thomas kill and Rebels’ error.
St. Cecilia blocked the Rebels 10 times for the match. Kirkegaard led the team with four.
VanSlyke said her program, which hadn’t appeared at state since 2015, lacked heavily in the experience category.
“We came out a little scared. I think a lot of it was experience, going against St. Cecilia who is here every year,” the Arcadia/Loup City coach said. “It’s the experience we lacked a little bit of being here...We got down and it was hard to get back up.”
At this point in the season, saving legs can be crucial. That the Hawkettes were able to rebound and escape in three sets, could be play in their favor going forward.
St. Cecilia advances to play No. 4 Lutheran High Northeast, which beat No. 5 Bishop Neumann 25-17, 22-25, 25-20, 25-18, Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“We haven’t seen really anything from Lutheran High Northeast. Not very many common opponents, either,” VanCura said
He and the STC staff did some scouting of the Eagles in their opening round match Thursday.
After going one-and-done at last year’s state tournament, VanCura said his team is happy to win the first one and have two more games guaranteed — either with a championship match or third-place match Saturday.
“We don’t want to be playing for third place. We’ve got to worry about this second game here and hopefully our kids will be ready to play (Friday),” VanCura said.
ALC (26-6).........10 12 20
STC (33-3).........25 25 25
Arcadia/Loup City (kills-aces-blocks)
Creighton Harrington 0-1-0, Capri Dethlefs 5-0-2, Shaylee Chilewski 1-0-0, McKenna Cruikshank 1-0-0, Nadia VanSlyke 0-0-1, Calli Bauer 9-0-1, Mariah Markus 7-0-0, Lindsi Loos 0-0-0, Ellie Oxford 0-1-0, Shanyn Gappa 0-1-0, Ashley Chilewski 0-0-0. Totals: 23-3-4.
Assists — VanSlyke 18, Bauer 2.
St. Cecilia (kills-aces-blocks)
Katharine Hamburger 10-2-2, Jill Parr 0-0-0, Chloe McCauley 7-0-0, Makenna Asher 5-3-2, Addie Kirkegaard 8-0-4, Tori Thomas 8-2-2, Erin Sheehy 0-3-0. Totals: 38-10-10.
Assists — Asher 17, Parr 15, McCauley 2.