Scotus Volleyball: State wait is over
AINSWORTH - Scotus Central Catholic volleyball dominated the first two sets, endured some inconsistency in the third but put it back together in the fourth in a win Saturday over Chadron.
The 25-13, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20 district final victory qualifies SCC for the 31st state tournament in program history.
The Shamrocks, who hadn’t been to state for three years, controlled the match early with precise passing, suffered some hiccups in the third but built a big fourth-set advantage in earning their 21st win of the season.
Three years doesn’t sound like a long time, but considering the history of Scotus volleyball, few players have been part of the program over the past three decades who didn’t play at state at least once.
In fact, every graduating class since 1982 has played at state at some point during its varsity career. Scotus had only gone through back-to-back seasons without appearing at state three times in that 36-year period before Saturday.
Thanks to an effort that included 21 kills by Bailey Lehr, seven by Emily Stutzman, four blocks by Julia Salerno and perfect serving until the final 19 points of the match, the wait, short but significant as it was, is over.
“I can’t say that it’s that much different (than the other ones),” head coach Janet Tooley said afterward.
Tooley had a hand in nearly every previous district championship on the staff of legendary coach John Petersen.
“It’s an accomplishment as a group. I felt as much a part of it, and an important part of it, as John’s assistant, and I hope my assistants do here. This is just a total group effort.”
Scotus scored the first three points in each of the first two sets and enjoyed a margin of at least 10 points in both.
The deciding run in the first came when the Shamrocks won 10 of the final 12 rallies with a 15-11 lead. A Chadron service error started the run, followed by a call on the Cardinals for two hits, a call into the net and a passing error.
Chadron coach Blakelee Hoffman asked for a timeout but the break only temporarily stemmed the tide. After a Cardinal kill to stop the run, Salerno and Lehr slammed two sets to the floor, Lehr served up an ace, Chadron committed a passing error then was whistled again for two hits. Stutzman’s block at the right pin finished off the final point.
“There’s a lot of joy and a lot of emotion,” Stutzman said of the win. “I’m happy, I cried…I’m just excited.”
Set two was a reverse of the first. Scotus won 12 of the first 14 points then had to outlast a final run from Chadron when the Cardinals won seven of 11 rallies to make it somewhat interesting at the end.
Lehr had eight of her match-high kill total in the second set, and six of those came during the Shamrocks’ first 16 points of the set.
“It’s a dream come true and here we are, on our way down to Lincoln,” Lehr said. “So much emotion, so much excitement, it gets your adrenaline going so much. These girls worked so hard all season. This is everyone’s goal during the season. We’re fortunate to get there.”
Trouble finally reared its ugly head in the third when Chadron jumped out to a 10-6 lead. Scotus answered and led 14-12 and 19-16 but suffered two aces, three Cardinal kills, a block and suddenly had to put state on hold.
The fourth opened with a back-and-forth battle that included a 4-0 Scotus lead, a 4-4 response from Chadron then alternating points until another four-point run by the ’Rocks gave them the lead for good.
Lehr’s 21st kill sealed it.
“We don’t finish in three (sets). So I knew we were going to finish in the fourth,” Courtney Kosch said. “Everybody was pretty calm. We’re pretty used to not finishing in three sets. Hopefully, we get that done at the state tournament.”
Scotus has held seven 2-0 leads this season counting Saturday and failed to convert four of them.
“When you get to this point in the district, the seed doesn’t really matter. People forget sometimes, these are high school kids out there and they’re playing a game,” Tooley said. “This group has felt some pressure, that pressure to get ourselves back. When you’re one set away, I did expect a little tightness.
“Kudos to the fact that, the one thing this group has been able to do, which we didn’t do early when we went through a three-match losing skid, is we couldn’t regroup. This group has also figured out how to do that.”
Scotus moves on to play No. 2 Lincoln Lutheran at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Northstar. The Warriors are 32-3 on the season.
The three losses were all to state tournament teams - Class B No. 2 Omaha Duchesne and fellow Class C-1 members No. 1 Wahoo and No. 3 Grand Island Central Catholic.
“It’s always been my dream to make it to state volleyball. It’s everything that Scotus volleyball is about,” Salerno said. “Being able to make it, especially my senior year is literally one of my happiest experiences.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org