It took Millard West a little time to get rolling in the final of the Millard North Invitational, but then there was no stopping the Wildcats.
Millard West boosted its record to 9-0 by defeating Lincoln North Star 25-19, 25-22 for the championship. Coach Erin Byrd's squad finished the tourney 5-0 and is one of two undefeated teams left in Class A just two weeks into the season.
“We played a little hesitant at the start,” she said, “but we gradually figured it out. It was just a real team effort out there for us today.”
The Wildcats advanced to the final of the 10-team tournament by defeating Grand Island 25-14, 26-24 in one semifinal. The Navigators moved on to the championship after outlasting the host Mustangs 25-22, 12-25, 26-24.
North Star held the upper hand early in the first set of the final, opening a 10-6 lead. Millard West fought back to tie at 16 on a kill by Cassidy Loberg and then took the lead for good after a Navigators setting error.
The Wildcats continued to extend their lead and captured the first set on a dink by setter Tiffany Wentworth, her only kill of the match.
Millard West gained the upper hand early in the second set and refused to relinquish the lead. The Wildcats moved ahead 10-4 on a kill by Alexis Anderson and later led 18-10 on a kill by Erin Sosnowchik.
North Star made one late run, drawing within 21-19 when a shot by Loberg failed to clear the net. But the sophomore redeemed herself with a kill on the next point and the Wildcats eventually put away the set and the match on a kill by freshman Bridget Peterson.
“We were a little younger than them,” Navigators coach Kristi Nelson-Hitz said. “But we'll keep gaining experience and we'll be excited to play them down the road sometime.”
Both teams were without key players due to ankle injuries. North Star played without junior Katie Hitz and the Wildcats played without senior Kamesha Young.
Nelson-Hitz, a former standout player at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said her young team should gain confidence despite the loss.
“This is a tough tournament,” she said. “It's a long weekend and to get to the final is saying something.”
Loberg and Sosnowchik had seven kills each to pace the Wildcats while Wentworth dished out 26 assists.
Senior Aspen Green had a match-high eight kills to lead North Star (8-2).
Both teams return to action Tuesday night. Millard West will play at Papillion-La Vista while the Navigators will host Lincoln High.
Lincoln North Star ............................ 19 22
Millard West ..................................... 25 25
LNS (kills-aces-blocks): Justine Griess 0-1-0, Aspen Green 8-0-0, Sarah Allick 5-0-2, Ashley Kistiatis 2-1-0, Kailee Brown 0-1-0, Jenna Tederman 5-0-0, Courtney Faller 1-0-0, Tanner Stroup 2-0-0.
MW: Morgan Rademacher 1-1-0, Bridget Peterson 4-0-1, Alexis Anderson 5-0-1, Cassidy Loberg 7-0-0, Kira Shapiro 5-0-0, Eris Sosnowchik 7-0-0, Tiffany Wentworth 1-0-0.
Set assists: LNS 24 (Brown 15, Griess 8, Green 1), MW 29 (Wentworth 26, Sydney Stockfleth 1, Emily Leichner 1, Sydney Yong 1).