GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — In volleyball, it's not how a team starts in September. It's how it finish in November.
Hartington Cedar Catholic was handed two of its four early-season losses by Norfolk Lutheran.
Since the second loss to the Eagles on Sept. 13, Cedar Catholic won 21 out of its next 22 matches.
The Trojans capped off their season with a 25-15, 14-25, 25-14, 25-22 win over Norfolk Lutheran in the Class C-2 state championship match at Heartland Events Center on Saturday.
“This was the strangest match that I've ever coached,” Cedar Catholic coach Adam Kuntz said. “The first three sets, it was blowout after blowout after blowout. I knew Lutheran High knew how to act and knew how to keep their focus. They did exactly what a state championship team could do. They battled back and made a late run.”
In all four sets, the team that got off to a quick start was victorious. Cedar Catholic built a 15-5 lead in the first set. The Trojans later increased their lead to 21-8 when Bailey Steffen and Katelyn Dickes combined for a block. A kill by Lexi Steffen closed out the opening set for the Trojans.
Norfolk Lutheran High scored six of the first seven points in the second set. The Eagles stretched their lead to 17-7 with an ace serve by Jessica Masters. Cedar Catholic pulled within 20-12, but the Eagles finished off the set scoring five out of the final seven points, the last on a Morgan Uhlir kill.
Cedar Catholic got its rhythm back at the start of the third set and maintained it through the remainder of the match. The Trojans took a 12-2 lead in the third set when setter Emily Schrempp hooked up with teammate Karly Noecker for a kill.
A block by Lexi Steffen helped cap off a 7-1 start for Cedar Catholic in the fourth set. The Trojans held the lead throughout the entire set. However, Norfolk Lutheran — the state champions in 2010 and 2011 — closed its deficit to 23-22 after getting an ace serve from Megan Gebhardt.
But Cedar Catholic closed out the win with kills by Siera Becker and Lexi Steffen, giving the Trojans their first state title since winning Class C-1 in 1989.
“You really can't describe the feeling,” Dickes said. “I feel so good. There's no better way to go out as a senior than to go out on top.”
Lexi Steffen finished with 11 kills and seven blocks for Cedar Catholic (31-5). Dickes and Siera Becker each had 11 kills, while Karly Noecker finished with 10 kills. Schrempp had 46 set assists.
Cedar Catholic closed its season on a 15-match winning streak.
“I wish I could write down what clicked for our team at the start of October,” Kuntz said. “There's something and I can't figure out what it was, but it made a world of difference for our team.”
Morgan Sunderman led Norfolk Lutheran with 14 kills and six blocks. Uhlir added 11 kills, while Jessica Masters had five kills and two blocks.
Megan Gebhardt contributed 26 set assists, four kills, three blocks and two ace serves.
“We just had too many errors that we do not typically make,” Norfolk Lutheran coach Kathy Gebhardt. “Against a great team like Hartington Cedar Catholic, you can't do that. Obviously, they did a lot of really good things and they're a tremendous team. I give all the credit to them. In the end, I think we could have played with them a little better. Our girls never quit, never gave up and fought back.”
With the loss, Lutheran High finished its season with a 30-6 record.
The Eagles began the season with a young squad. Lutheran High loses just two seniors in Mandi Uecker and Masters.
“We have come a long ways from where we started in September,” Gebhardt said. “I'm just extremely proud of our girls. Getting back here in this match is awesome. They have nothing to hand their heads about and should be really proud.”
Hartington Cedar Catholic (31-5)...........................25 14 25 25
Norfolk Lutheran (30-6)......................................15 25 14 22
HCC (kills-aces-blocks): Karly Noecker 10-0-1, 1s, 8d; Emily Schrempp 2-0-1, Siera Becker 11-0-3, Liz Steffen 0-0-0, Katelyn Dickes 11-0-3, Lexi Steffen 11-0-7, Bailey Steffen 6-0-2, Kallie Leise 0-1-0.
NL: Mandi Uecker 3k-0-1, Megan Gebhardt 4-2-3, Madison Spence 0-0-0, Morgan Sunderman 14-0-6, Hannah Knapp 0-1-0, Kelsey Sunderman 4-1-0, Arianna Rathke 0-1-0, Morgan Uhlir 11-0-1, Jessica Masters 5-1-2.
Set assists: HCC 49 (Schrempp 46, Noecker 1, Dickes 1, B. Steffen 1), NL 36 (Gebhardt 26, Uecker 7, Spence 1, Knapp 1, Rathke 1).