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Then there were four.
After a long and exciting volleyball season, we are now to the final week of competition. In my coverage area, we have four squads that earned the trip to Lincoln to continue their quest for a state title.
Crofton, Elgin Public/Pope John, St. Mary’s and Chambers/Wheeler Central proved themselves each and every week this year as some of the top teams in the state. These four teams have combined for 98 wins on the season. They have all dominated the competition on a regular basis and have rebounded from unexpected upsets. Now, they take on the best the state has to offer.
Crofton was one team that surprised no one by their performance throughout the year after having qualified for state the past three years. They boast one of the most well-rounded teams in C2. Senior Monica Arens led the Warriors’ attack at the net throughout the year, racking up 343 kills. Fellow senior Kelsey Sanger was not only second on the team with 288 kills, put she proved herself as one of the top servers in the tournament after recording 72 aces on the year. Madison Johnson helped the offense run smoothly each and every week, recording 732 assists. Josie Sanger, the team’s libero, was all over the court all season, pulling up 425 digs. Those four will lead a confident Crofton squad into a first-round showdown with Hasting St. Cecilia on Thursday.
EPPJ had one of the best regular seasons of any team in Nebraska, finishing at 24-1 before stumbling to a 2-3 combined record in the conference and district tournaments. They proved each night that few teams had as much power as the Wolfpack, as they had four girls that would be any other team’s top hitter. Liz Selting and Amy Nelson regularly showed their strength at the net, putting down 324 and 203 kills, respectively. Grace Henn and Paige Meis worked as compliments to their senior companions all year, combining for another 312 kills. With so many strong hitters, it took a combination of Baylee and Allyson Wemhoff along with Nicki Payne to distribute the wealth, totaling 789 assists between the three. This deep Wolfpack team has a great chance to be playing on the final day of the tournament, but they must first get back to their winning ways in a first-round game with Ansley-Litchfield.
St. Mary’s is as decorated as anyone in this year’s field, having won two state championships and one runner-up in the past four years. They intend to add to that list in their fifth-straight appearance. They are led by an outstanding and experienced senior class. Logan Connot and Hattie Blumenstock recorded 229 and 228 kills, respectively, this season. Hailey Eiler and Breanna Hedstrom each recorded at least 130 kills as well. Fellow senior Taylor Colman was an expert at distributing the ball to her talented hitters, recording 845 assists. Sophomore Brianna Bauer leads the team with 50 aces. The Cardinals start their journey to another title Thursday when they take on Wynot in a rematch of the district finals. St. Mary’s won that match in straight sets, by the way.
Chambers/Wheeler Central may have been St. Mary’s biggest thorn all season, taking on the Cardinals in three separate thrilling matches, winning one and sending the other two to five sets. They are led by a senior who, in my opinion, is the best all-around player in the area. Jacie Laetsch is not an overwhelming presence, being listed at 5’7”, but she plays at the net like a six-footer and scores with authority. She leads the team in kills (409), aces (69) and digs (245). However, she is far from the only talent on a strong Renegade squad. Regan Dierks recorded 239 kills this year. Daneecia Thorin accounted for 50 aces. Jordan Laetsch, Jacie’s younger sister, recorded 176 digs. Freshman Taylor Peter was fantastic in her first season, recording 571 assists. The Renegades use their players all over the floor and will need to be at their best as they start their journey to their first state title as the Renegades when they take on 31-1 Potter-Dix in the opening round.