Returning just two starters from last season, Omaha Marian coach Rochelle Rohlfs knew it might take time for her young team to come together.
But a first-place finish in the recent 16-team Lincoln Public Schools Classic — one of the major tourneys of the season — shows the Crusaders are growing up in a hurry.
Marian bounced back from a pool-play loss Friday against Class B power Lincoln Pius X to win three matches and the championship on Saturday. The Crusaders took out Lincoln Southeast in a quarterfinal and Papillion-La Vista in a semifinal before defeating preseason No. 1 Lincoln Southwest in the final.
Rohlfs’ squad swept all three of those matches, another sign the team is figuring it out.
“I can sense we’re playing with more confidence,” the coach said. “I saw growth just from Friday night to Saturday, so we’re definitely on the right track.”
Marian’s rapid improvement could come as bad news for opponents during this season of parity. The Crusaders have one of the richest volleyball traditions in Nebraska, reaching the state tournament 27 times — tied with Class C-1 powers Columbus Scotus and Grand Island Central Catholic for the most of any school.
Rohlfs had another outstanding team last year but had to settle for Class A runner-up behind national power Papillion-La Vista South. The Crusaders went 38-5 in 2012, with all five setbacks to the Titans.
Marian was able to exorcise some of those demons last Tuesday, defeating visiting Papio South in three sets. It was the first time the Crusaders had defeated the Titans since the 2009 state final and snapped a string of 14 consecutive losses against Papio South.
“Beating them was huge for us,” said senior setter Sydney O’Shaughnessy. “To win that match gave us the feeling that we could beat anyone.”
O’Shaughnessy and sophomore libero Brittany Witt are the only returning starters. The team has gotten major contributions from sophomores Hannah Mueller, Sophia Terwilleger and Elizabeth Loschen, junior Kelsey O’Connell and senior Anna Krettek.
The Crusaders showed their inexperience in the season-opening Bellevue Invitational, finishing an uncharacteristic fifth. But the past two weeks have shown Marian is improving and definitely in the mix for the school’s fifth state title.
“We know that we’ve got a lot of season left to go,” Rohlfs said. “We have the ability, but we have to continue to play hard.”
Ratings update: Unbeaten Millard West remains No. 1 in the Top 10. The Wildcats did not participate in the LPS Classic and had just one match last week, defeating host Papillion-La Vista in four sets.
Millard West plays Class B No. 7 Elkhorn on Thursday night and then is in the Allison Weston Invitational at Papillion-La Vista on Friday and Saturday.
Millard West also has rescheduled two of its home matches. The Wildcats’ match against Millard North, scheduled for last Thursday, has been moved to Oct. 7 and their match against Papio South, scheduled for Oct. 10, has been moved to Sept. 30.
Class B No. 1 Grand Island Northwest also remains undefeated and climbs to No. 2 in the overall Top 10. The Vikings face a tough week that includes a match against Class B No. 4 Aurora on Tuesday night and possible matchups Saturday against Class B No. 3 Omaha Skutt and Class C-1 No. 1 Columbus Scotus in the Grand Island Northwest Invitational.
Freeman moves up one slot to No. 1 in Class C-2 while O’Neill St. Mary’s (D-1) and Mead (D-2) hold on to their top spots.
Top matches this week:
Class A—Tuesday: Lincoln Southwest at Lincoln Northeast, 6:30. Thursday: Grand Island at Lincoln North Star, 6:30. Friday-Saturday: Allison Weston Invitational, at Papillion-La Vista. Saturday: Grand Island tournament.
Class B—Tuesday: Aurora at Grand Island Northwest; Gretna at Elkhorn South, 6:30; Elkhorn at Norris, 6:30. Saturday: Grand Island Northwest Invitational; Lincoln Pius X Invitational; Aurora Invitational.
Class C-1—Tuesday: Kearney Catholic at Wood River; Gothenburg at Minden triangular; Omaha Concordia, Grand Island CC at Lincoln Lutheran triangular; Crofton at Wisner-Pilger triangular. Saturday: Wahoo at Syracuse triangular; Wisner-Pilger Invitational.
Class C-2—Tuesday: Freeman at Lincoln Christian; Doniphan-Trumbull at Hastings SC; Stanton at Wisner-Pilger triangular. Saturday: Norfolk Lutheran and Crofton at Norfolk Catholic triangular.
Class D-1—Tuesday: Twin Loup at Ansley-Litchfield triangular; Howells/Dodge at Norfolk Lutheran; BDS at Shelby/Rising City. Thursday: Bartley Southwest at Hershey.
Class D-2—Tuesday: Exeter-Milligan at Friend. Thursday: Leyton at Hay Springs triangular. Saturday: Mead, Giltner at Hampton tournament; Bertrand Invitational.