Mid-season meeting spurred Shamrock turnaround
Streaks, good and bad, were on the line in the middle of the Scotus Central Catholic volleyball season.
One was already over.
The Shamrocks took a 2-0 lead at David City Aquinas on Sept. 11 but couldn’t sustain the early momentum and fell to the Monarchs in five sets. Three straight decades of winning over SCC’s Centennial Conference rival were over in the blink of an eye.
As previously reported by The Columbus Telegram, the loss had such a profound impact on at least one person, that particular fan shared her displeasure with a member of the team.
And the disappointment didn’t end there.
Scotus fought back from a 2-1 deficit to Lincoln Christian in the next match and led 6-2 in the fifth, but let the victory slip away.
The Shamrocks played No. 2 Grand Island Central Catholic two nights later and were swept off the court.
Suddenly, one late collapse gave way to two more losses and put the program on the brink of its first four-game skid in more than a decade.
Something had to be done.
“At that point, we were down on ourselves. We knew we needed to find a flow again. We knew we were good inside. We just needed to show everyone and prove to ourselves that we were a good team,” senior Abbie Zoucha said Tuesday before practice. “There was a lot of pressure. We have a history of winning championships and winning in general. I personally felt the pressure because it’s my senior year and I wanted to get to the state tournament. I knew at that point, something needed to change.”
The change started after the loss to GICC. The six seniors asked the varsity squad to stay behind and have a conversation.
They each expressed what the team needed to do better and what they individually needed to do better.
“I’d say I’m pretty vocal. I remember that being a game I needed to step up as a senior. This is my team and I really wanted to get to the state tournament. That’s all I was thinking at that point,” Zoucha remembered.
“I wouldn’t say I was forceful, but I was pretty intense and straightforward. We needed to show to everyone that we were a good team because we had a lot of doubters.”
Whatever was said, or how it was said, it had the desired effect. Scotus took the floor at Lakeview the next time out and looked and acted like a whole different team.
The Shamrocks controlled play with a potent service game, won 11 of the first 12 rallies in set one, overcame a 10-5 deficit in set two and led start to finish in set three.
SCC lost the title match of the Columbus Classic to Hastings four days later and fell to GICC again in the Centennial Conference tournament, but the team had a different confidence level. The Shamrocks were learning from their mistakes and getting better rather than dwelling on their shortcomings or considering the pressure of representing a prestigious program.
“Playing Lakeview was a turning point. Winning the first set, I knew this is where our season was going to turn around,” Zoucha said. “I just had a feeling this game was going to be the game where we were going to turn things around, and it has been.”
Zoucha is a two-year starter for Scotus along with Courtney Kosch and Bailey Lehr, who were also regular players a year ago.
That group went 17-11 and lost in the sub-district final.
Zoucha had been a setter up to that point when, due to an injury, she was asked to put on the libero jersey and learn a new position.
Since junior high, she had always been a setter.
It wasn’t her favorite change to make, but a year removed from what she considered a sacrifice, Zoucha has grown to love being a defensive specialist.
“That was a really big transition for me. I’ve just tried to make the best of it I can taking extra reps and learning as much as possible,” she said. “I do like playing libero now.
“Right when (coach Janet Tooley) told me I might be getting the libero jersey, I needed to realize I had to settle into that position. I couldn’t hang on to wanting to be a setter. I needed to transition and sacrifice for the team.”
Junior Chloe Odbert is now the starting setter in a lineup that includes Zoucha in most rotations. Zoucha has been an effective server, back row player and saved several balls covering tips and blocks directly behind the taller members of the team.
That team, she says, always had state potential in it, even if it wasn’t immediately recognizable.
“I think we are pretty consistent. Ever since that win over Lakeview, we’ve been pretty consistent and building,” Zoucha said.
That build came to a culmination on Saturday in Ainsworth with the district title victory over Chadron.
Zoucha can’t quite compare it to winning a state basketball championship last season, but with the expectations that are attached to being a Shamrock volleyball player, finally getting to state means she’s fulfilled her duties of carrying on the tradition.
“You look at the banners (hanging in the gym) and they go all the way back to way back when, and there’s a lot of them,” she said. “Going into (the district match) I was pretty confident we’d win it. But when the final point hit the floor, I was jumping up off the bench and running out to celebrate with my team.
“It was probably the best feeling I’ve had all season.”
Scotus was the favorite in that match. The Shamrocks will now face the eight-team Class C-1 state bracket as the 7-seed and the underdog.
Adding another banner means first taking down No. 3 Lincoln Lutheran - a team that has only lost three times. All three losses were to an opponent either ranked first or second.
“Being the underdog is kind of a cool thing,” Zoucha said. “We can prove to everyone we don’t deserve to be that low of a seed. When we won in basketball, we were the underdog starting in the district round. We had to win in an upset the whole way through. That was the best feeling ever.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org