Heading into this past volleyball season, Grand Island Northwest coach Diane Rouzee chose not to dwell on those five consecutive runner-up finishes at state.
That couldn’t have been easy.
But the longtime coach put an end to that streak as she guided the Vikings to the Class B state championship, the school’s third overall and first since 2003. It also snapped that five-year runner-up string — the longest in state volleyball tourney history — that ran from 2007 to 2011.
Rouzee, in her 25th season as Northwest’s volleyball coach, is the 2013 Nebraska girls high school coach of the year. The Vikings finished the season 35-2, defeating Gretna in a five-set cliffhanger to capture the state title.
“It was a wonderful feeling to win that championship,” Rouzee said. “It felt great for the girls and the school.”
Rouzee (pronounced row-ZAY) spent years playing volleyball — first at Kearney High School and later at Kearney State College — before coaching at Northwest. She has been at the school 29 years and has built the volleyball program into a Class B powerhouse.
“I’ve got a great coaching staff,” she said. “And I’ve got a husband who has been very supportive of me over the years.”
Rouzee’s family consists of her husband of 28 years, Dave; daughters Lyndi and Jenna; and son Zach.
“Over the years, there were a lot of times when I’d get home late after practices,” the coach said. “Sometimes supper was late or the house didn’t look just so, but everybody was always very understanding and supportive.”
After finishing as the runner-up for the fifth straight time in 2011 — three times to Lincoln Pius X and twice to Omaha Gross — Rouzee said she didn’t know what to expect heading into the 2012 season.
“We had graduated several (eight) seniors from the previous season,” she said, “and we had three transfers that we were trying to fit in. But those transfers all felt comfortable here and were embraced by the others.”
Those transfers — Morgan Westphal from Scottsbluff, Erin Sorahan from Grand Island Central Catholic and Kennadi Keezer from Grand Island High — all played important roles in the Vikings’ success. So did returning varsity players McKenzie Brown, Katie Placke, Kaley Werner, Niki Broich and Neleigh Hall.
Rouzee helped the newcomers blend in by taking the team on a summer trip to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. Offseason workouts also prepared the Vikings for their attempt at redemption, though Rouzee said she never looked at it that way.
“Everybody made me feel as though we should be disappointed for finishing second so many times in a row,” she said. “I thought it was a tribute to our program that we were able to get that far year in and year out.”
Northwest won its first six matches of the season but then lost two of its next three. The Vikings would not lose again, rattling off 25 straight wins before state.
At the state tournament, fate also seemed to be on the Vikings’ side. Northwest’s two biggest obstacles from the past would not stand in its way because Pius competed in Class A last season and Gross lost to Gretna in the first round.
“I think mentally that was a big boost for us,” Rouzee said. “Both those schools seemed to always have our number.”
Northwest defeated York in the first round and Waverly in the semifinals, advancing to play the upstart Dragons, who were seeded seventh in the eight-team tournament. The top-seeded Vikings prevailed 25-22, 29-31, 25-20, 11-25, 16-14.
“We were down 13-12 in that last set,” Rouzee said. “I take my hat off to Gretna because they battled us to the end.”
Brown, who led the Vikings with 13 kills, said the team was determined to capture the title for its longtime coach.
“We were really motivated,” she said. “We wanted to do it for her.”
Brown, who also helped lead Northwest to the Class B girls basketball title in March, said Rouzee has a special relationship with her players.
“She is one of my favorite people in the whole school,” Brown said. “She’s helped me get so much better, and we respect her so much for the way she has built up our program.”
Rouzee, who never has had a losing record at Northwest, said she is looking forward to the 2013 season when her team will be in a relatively unusual position — having a chance to repeat as state champion.
“I still love working with the kids, and I still have a passion for the game,” she said. “I can’t wait to get started next season.”
Contact the writer: