Much like the other top Class A teams this season, Millard North has had its share of ups and downs.
But the Mustangs are back on an upswing after capturing the tough Omaha Westside Invitational on Saturday. Five of the eight teams in the tourney were ranked, and Millard North managed to win its second major invitational of the season.
Coach Lindsay Peterson said it was a loss to Omaha Marian in the tournament’s opening round Friday that helped pave the way to victory.
“We talked about playing with more intensity,” she said. “Our hitters really stepped it up after that because they played well on offense and had a lot of digs on defense.”
After losing to the Crusaders, the Mustangs bounced back to sweep Papillion-La Vista in Saturday’s semifinals before defeating Lincoln Southwest in four sets for the championship. Millard North also won the season-opening Bellevue Invitational.
The Mustangs, who boosted their record to 22-9, climb to No. 2 in Class A and No. 3 in the Nebraska Top 10.
Peterson, a former assistant at Omaha Burke, is in her second season at Millard North. She guided her team to a 27-15 mark and a state tournament berth in 2012.
The Mustangs graduated five players off that squad, but the victory in the competitive Bellevue Invite showed the team returned plenty of firepower. That positive vibe didn’t last long, though, as Millard North failed to reach the final of its own invitational the following week.
Peterson’s squad lost three of five matches two weeks later at the Allison Weston (Papillion-La Vista) Invitational, though the coach said she remained upbeat.
“We were playing hard but I could sense the kids seemed to be feeling the pressure,” she said. “We were playing tense, and we talked about playing more relaxed and having a good time.”
Those good times have been happening in October as the Mustangs have gone 8-2 against tough competition. One of the highlights of that run was a gritty five-set road win over Millard West, ranked No. 1 in Class A most of the season.
Against Southwest on Saturday, junior Bella Siciunas had 18 kills while senior Elisa Wildy added 13. Siciunas leads the Mustangs in kills at 2.8 per set, followed by Katherine King (2.5) and Wildy (2.2).
Other key performers in Millard North’s 6-2 offense are setters Nikki Ohlinger (6.3 assists per set) and Paige Madsen (5.9 per set). Defensively, senior Morgan Thompson averages 4.4 digs and junior Libby Kuokol averages 3.7.
Peterson said she likes the way her team is playing as the regular season winds down. The Mustangs have two matches this week — including a rematch Thursday night against Marian — before next week’s Metro Conference tournament.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” she said. “We just need to stay consistent and keep playing hard every match.”
Top-ranked Grand Island Northwest continues its winning ways, going 7-0 last week. The Vikings won five matches to capture the Central Conference tournament.
Millard West remains No. 2 in the overall Top 10 and No. 1 in Class A. The Wildcats will be tested on Tuesday night with a road match against Marian, the first time those teams have played this season.
Rounding out the overall top five are Millard North, Lincoln Pius X and Lincoln Southwest.
The top teams in Classes C and D — Columbus Scotus (C-1), Hastings St. Cecilia (C-2), O’Neill St. Mary’s (D-1) and Bertrand (D-2) — all held their positions.
Lincoln East’s big week: Props to Lincoln East for its performance last week. The unranked Spartans posted a road win over Lincoln Northeast on Tuesday night and followed that with a five-set road win over Pius on Thursday night.
That performance will give East (14-11) some momentum heading into the Heartland Athletic Conference tournament this week.
Top matches this week
Tuesday: Bellevue West at Millard North, 6:30; Millard West at Omaha Marian, 7:15. Tuesday, Thursday: Heartland Athletic Conference tournament (final at Lincoln North Star). Thursday: Omaha Marian at Millard North, 6:30. Saturday: Grand Island at North Platte triangular.
Tuesday: Aurora at Grand Island CC; Wahoo at Beatrice. Thursday: Beatrice at Lincoln Pius X triangular, 5; Waverly at Elkhorn, 6:30; Omaha Skutt at Elkhorn South, 6:30. Saturday: Norris Invitational.
Tuesday: Columbus Scotus at Lincoln Lutheran triangular; North Platte at Ogallala; Wahoo at Beatrice; Kearney Catholic at St. Paul; Omaha Concordia, Columbus Lakeview at Wahoo Neumann triangular. Thursday: Wood River at St. Paul triangular. Saturday: Lincoln Christian Invitational; Wood River Invitational; Southwest Conference tournament (at Ainsworth).
Tuesday: Hastings SC at Lincoln Lutheran triangular; Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family at Bancroft-Rosalie; Yutan at Palmyra. Thursday: Crossroads Conference tournament final (at York). Friday: Wayne at Hartington CC triangular. Saturday: Eagle Classic (at Norfolk Lutheran).
Tuesday: Clearwater/Orchard at O’Neill St. Mary’s; CWC at Cedar Valley triangular; Emerson-Hubbard, Hartington at Winside triangular. Thursday: Tekamah-Herman at Howells/Dodge.
Tuesday: Ewing at Cedar Valley triangular; Falls City Sacred Heart at Sterling triangular. Saturday: Bertrand at Southern Valley Invitational.