Which two, you ask? We have six to choose from.
Last year, I would’ve sat there and put Blue Hill, the 2018 Class C-2 champion, against anybody. And the Bobcats did beat almost everybody in their dream season.
I watched those Bobcats on so many occasions. I knew that team, its players, its coach, even some of its fans, like the back on my hand. I knew, way deep down on some occasions, that they’d pull out the victory. Those seasons and teams make my job fun.
But if I’m being honest, there is no team like that, that I’ve seen this season — at least not in the Tribland. If you’re looking at the state volleyball bracket for all classes and thinking “Um, Will, you clearly haven’t heard of Class A Papillion-LaVista (36-1), or St. Paul (33-0) in C-1,” I hear you. But the Tribune doesn’t cover those teams. It’s possible I’ll see them for the first time this weekend.
St. Paul, which hasn’t even lost a single set this season, has played a few Tribland squads, but none of which I witnessed. Based off of numbers and experience, I’d say the Wildcats are likely going to cruise to the C-1 title.
The teams I can compare most to the 2018 Blue Hill Bobcats are those like St. Cecilia (32-3) and Superior (29-2), the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in C-2. In D-2, there’s No. 1 Lawrence-Nelson (29-4) and No. 3 Bruning-Davenport/Shickley (27-4).
Out of those four teams, I’d absolutely put money down on, at the very least, one team bringing home a banner. My gut says one of those teams in each of those classes will do so.
Giltner (21-10) and Hastings (21-11), both No. 8 seeds in D-2 and B, respectively, also could contend for a title. I’m certainly not discounting their seasons or them as underdogs, they’ll just have much tougher roads.
This season, my third covering fall sports for the Tribune, has seemingly zoomed by faster than the previous two. This is my second full year on the volleyball beat, and the more I watch, the more I grow to love about it.
I’ll get to previewing the state tournament and its matchups in a moment, but I’d like to take a second and thank all of the coaches and players who have graciously spoken with me after both triumphs and losses.
I’d like to specifically thank Hastings High coach Dave Hepner for hanging around with me for almost an hour after one of the Tigers’ matches and walking me through the game of volleyball from a coach’s, and former player’s, perspective, teaching me much more about the sport, which I feel — and I hope — has shown in my writing ever since.
I learn more and more with every event that I have the opportunity to cover. You think you know a lot until you learn a lot more. I certainly have these last few months.
Now, here’s some of my analysis (take it for what it’s worth) on the Tribland teams in the state tournament.
No. 1 Skutt (27-4) vs. No. 8 Hastings (21-11), Pinnacle Bank Arena, 1:30 p.m.
I’ll begin in Class B with the Tigers, who qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2008.
Can I just say something? I’m happy for you, Hastings. You did it.
The Tigers, who lost a subdistrict semifinal to Aurora, defeated the Huskies in four sets in a district final to earn their state berth.
Now, Hastings has a test Thursday to open the Class B tournament. The No. 1 overall seed Skutt Catholic (27-4) stands in the way.
The Skyhawks have won 20 of their last 21 matches. Oh, and they’ve also won the last four state titles. Nebraska recruit Lindsay Krause, a 6-foot, 3-inch outside, leads the Skyhawks with 305 kills. Creighton commit Megan Skovsende, a 5-11 outside with 273 kills, could also cause Hastings some problems.
Skutt’s overall height is going to be a big issue for Hastings. There are just five players on the Skyhawks’ roster shorter than 5-9. The Tigers boast just four players who are 5-9 or taller.
The Tigers’ success will hinge heavily on Dacey Selaey’s distribution, which means her defense must get her a clean pass. Hepner, who considers Sealey Hastings’ best overall athlete, moved her to setter to fill a void. She’ll sometimes still swing in certain rotations, but often dishes the ball to Brooke Aspen (322 kills) and Aubree Cress (121) at the pins, or Haley Schram (231) over the middle.
The Tigers will have to play phenomenal defense, better than they have all year, and convert on out of system plays to advance. Skutt is certainly the class favorite. Hastings has never won its first game at the state tournament.
No. 1 St. Cecilia (32-3) vs. No. 8 Arcadia/Loup City (26-6), Lincoln Southwest, 1:30 p.m.
The Hastings community will have to pick between the Tigers over at Pinnacle Bank Arena or St. Cecilia Hawkettes at Lincoln Southwest High School Thursday. Both play at 1:30 p.m.
St. Cecilia (32-3) earned the No. 1 seed in C-2, and I think it’s tough to argue any other team in that spot.
The Hawkettes won the state basketball championship in March, and many of the same girls are part of the volleyball program, which is back at state for the second year in a row, and eighth of last nine.
St. Cecilia has a deeply-rooted state tournament history. The program has won 38 of its 55 matches dating back to 1976. The Hawkettes have seven championships — the most recent coming in 2015.
Alan VanCura, the man responsible for a majority of STC’s volleyball success, came out of retirement last year to lead the Hawkettes back to state, where they lost in the first round to eventual champ Blue Hill.
This year, the group is the favorite among many. STC’s three losses have been scattered. I witnessed them play some of their worst volleyball in the Fillmore Central invite final loss to the Panthers. They were five points from a sweep and Fillmore Central somehow frazzled the Hawkettes and dominated the rest of the way to win. VanCura was at a loss for words after that game. I’ve also seen plenty of ‘woah, they’re going to be tough to beat in November’ volleyball out of the Hawkettes.
St. Cecilia’s other losses were to Superior in the STC invite in three sets (2-1), and C-1 No. 3 seed Lincoln Lutheran (34-3).
I’ve longed to see a St. Cecilia and Superior rematch in a five-set setting. It very well could be the championship since the two are on opposite sides of the bracket. My fingers are crossed.
The Hawkettes’ diversity is what makes them so hard to contain. Tori Thomas (367 kills) leads a group of five attackers who all have more than 150 kills this season. STC is big up front too, with Katharine Hamburger collecting 60 ace blocks and Addie Kirkegaard 45. Makenna Asher is a danger at the service line and sets alongside Jill Parr, and libero Erin Sheehy digs out just about anything.
No. 2 Superior (29-2) vs. No. 7 Wisner-Pilger (22-11), Lincoln SW, 5:30 p.m.
Superior. Kalynn Meyer. Shayla Meyer.
Three intimidating phrases in C-2 girls sports in the state of Nebraska.
Kalynn, most recently named an Under Armour All-American Tuesday, will be in Husker red rather than that of the Wildcats before we know it. This is her last go around. And she’s hungry for a second state volleyball title after Superior’s shortcoming last year in the semis.
Little sis Shayla, just a sophomore, wants her first ring.
The pair have combined for 840 of the team’s 954 kills. Opponent’s know where the ball is going, but can they stop the sisters?
On their redemption tour, the Wildcats first will face Wisner-Pilger, a team whose two best wins were against defending D-1 champ Archbishop Bergan (Sept. 9) and in a district final against Mead (Nov. 11).
The Gators have the height to compete with Superior, and a little more diverse attack.
When Superior has struggled, it’s been against teams like Wisner-Pilger. The Wildcats will need quality passes and sets to be successful. The power of the Meyers, when the ball is within their reach, usually does the rest.
No. 1 Lawrence-Nelson (29-4) vs. No. 8 Giltner (21-10), Lincoln Northeast, 1:30 p.m.
Two Tribland schools. But only, one can advance.
Giltner was a pleasant surprise, sneaking into the D-2 state tournament with a district final win over Nebraska Christian. During the middle part of the year, the Hornets played their toughest part of their schedule and struggled.
Then, the Hornets were placed arguably in the class’s toughest subdistrict, which I thought the winner of would be the state champ at year’s end.
Lawrence-Nelson won the D2-6 subdistrict, beating BDS in five sets. So?
The Raiders, who have only lost to three teams (Superior twice, St. Cecilia, and BDS), beat Giltner in four sets in the subdistrict semifinal.
Lawrence-Nelson isn’t going to tower over anybody, but the Raiders play big and swing bigger. Four Raiders have more than 175 kills, led by Karigan Drudik’s 275 and Taylor Harrington’s 241.
The Raiders also play some of the toughest defense around. They don’t get a lot of ace blocks, but they do slow down attacks at the net and scoop them up in the back row.
Giltner’s not tall either. Cassidy Tompkin is the Hornets’ tallest player at 6-foot. She’s compiled 341 kills. Sydney Janzen (191), Amanda Whisenand (149) and Hannah Preissler (109) all have over 100 kills on the year. Preissler’s serves give opponents trouble. She has 71 ace serves as well as 720 assists running the offense.
This match should be a fun rematch.
The winner gets either No. 4 Garden County (29-1) or No. 5 Humphrey St. Francis (22-4), neither of which have played a difficult schedule. But, that’s not to say those teams aren’t still talented or tough to beat. It’s the state tournament.
No. 3 BDS (27-4) vs. No. 6 Bertrand (25-5), Lincoln Northeast, 7:30 p.m.
BDS is the defending D-2 champion. They’re not the exact same team, but the Eagles are close to it.
Just like in C-2, we could see an all-Tribland final in D-2 if Lawrence-Nelson and BDS both win their first two games.
I think it’s a likely possibility.
BDS’ championship last fall was Kari Jo Alfs’ 100th coaching victory. It was a special day for her and her daughter Regan, now a senior for the Eagles.
Regan Alfs is second on the team in kills (257) and leads in assists (353). She, Macy Kamler (272 kills), and Mariah Sliva (149) head the attack.
The Eagles use an aggressive service approach to try and control their opponents. Ace serves have not been hard to come by for BDS. Their six consistent rotations have all produced at least 24 aces on the year.
Size is one of BDS’ advantages for a D-2 school, but one aspect that stands out is the Eagles’ youth. With just three seniors, BDS relies heavily on younger players. That could cause problems in a state environment.
BDS’ first round opponent, Bertrand, is much smaller, but has a plethora of attackers. Six Vikings have more than 100 kills on the season. BDS will have its hands full trying to decipher where the set from Erin Boggs is going.
This exhaustingly long column in now over. If you made it this far, bless your heart. You must love high school volleyball like myself.
I’m expecting a memorable state tournament for the Tribland. I firmly believe the tournament is set up for our area programs to succeed this weekend.