Despite a slow start to the season, Grand Island Central Catholic is back in a familiar position — heading to the state volleyball tournament.
Central Catholic qualified for the 27th time — tied with Omaha Marian, Papillion-La Vista and Columbus Scotus for the most of any school — and will begin tourney play at 2 p.m. Thursday. The Class C-1 Crusaders lost four of their first six matches but bounced back to win their final eight matches, including a victory over Fillmore Central in the district final.
“We feel good about where we're at right now,” Crusaders coach Sharon Zavala said. “We played a tough schedule and I think that will help us a lot.”
It took awhile for the Crusaders, seeking their 10th state title, to get untracked. They still were only 8-8 by late September. But Central Catholic (23-10) has won 15 of its past 17 matches going into its tourney opener against longtime rival Scotus.
“It's a tough field this year, so whoever you drew in that first round was going to be a challenge,” Zavala said. “We've played Scotus a lot over the years, and the girls are eager to get another crack at them.”
That first-round matchup against Scotus also matches the coaches with the most career victories in the state. Zavala leads with 875 and the Shamrocks' John Petersen is second with 835.
Central Catholic's attack is led by junior Samantha Moravec, who has 310 kills. Other top hitters for the Crusaders are Emma Benton (286), Kelsie Scheel (137), Haley Benton (136) and Elysse Gratopp (117). Setter Lucky Gratopp has 851 assists while Sadie Goering leads the team in digs with 397.
While the Crusaders have indeed had another strong season, it's obvious to Zavala that undefeated Kearney Catholic looms as the team to beat in C-1.
“Physically, they're the most dominating team out there,” she said. “They bring a lot of height and power to their matches, and they're going to be really tough.”
Zavala does not have her biggest team — there are no players taller than 5-foot-10 — but Central Catholic still could present an interesting first-round match for Scotus.
“We've lost to them twice this year, but maybe the third time is the charm,” she said. “I know our girls are excited about getting to state and I know they're going to play hard.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1350, email@example.com, twitter.com/MPattersonOWH