After narrowly missing the state volleyball tournament last season, Omaha Skutt is one win away from reaching that goal.
The SkyHawks captured the B-2 district title Tuesday night by posting a 25-19, 25-27, 25-23, 25-18 win over visiting Elkhorn South. Skutt will host a substate final Saturday against Omaha Duchesne, while the Storm also qualify for that round and will play at Gretna.
The eight Class B district champions and the next eight highest teams in wild-card points will play Saturday, with the winners advancing to state next week in Grand Island.
This is the first season that substate playoffs have been implemented. Saturday's other matchups are Bennington at Lincoln Pius X; Gering at Grand Island Northwest; Holdrege at Waverly; Elkhorn at Aurora; Hastings at Norris; and Sidney at Beatrice.
Skutt coach Renee Saunders was one of the driving forces behind the playoff change. In 2012, the SkyHawks competed in a geographically based district that included four ranked teams, and they lost in the district final to eventual state runner-up Gretna.
“I think this is a better way,” she said.
Senior setter Alex Banker, who had eight kills and 25 assists for the SkyHawks (30-7), said some players still weren't exactly sure how the new playoff format worked.
“We just show up and play,” she said. “And even when we fall behind, we have confidence that we can come back.”
|PREP ZONE ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Nebraska Prep Zone Facebook page.|
That confidence was needed against the scrappy Storm, who led 17-8 in the pivotal third set with the match tied 1-1. The SkyHawks battled back, going on a 13-2 run to move ahead 21-19.
A pair of aces by Monica Hruby and one by Natalie Prucha helped keep Skutt on top, and the SkyHawks eventually won the set after an Elkhorn South net violation.
“Winning that third set was huge,” Saunders said. “This team is ridiculous the way it's been able to fight back.”
Banker said the team's mentality, even when trailing, has helped Skutt this season.
“We take it point by point,” she said. “Coach Saunders tells us to do that all the time.”
Skutt finished off the first set on a kill by Clare Snyder, but dropped the second after a set-point kill by Elkhorn South's Allison Rogers. The Storm had rallied from a 20-16 deficit to claim the second set and tie the match.
After the SkyHawks won the third set, they pulled away late in the fourth and sealed the victory when a shot by the Storm's Emily Gregan went long.
“It seems like sometimes we have to fall behind to get a reality check,” Saunders said. “But we were able to get it done tonight against a very good team.”
Kierra Harder led Skutt with 12 kills while Claire Knust had eight. Taylor Holz had six kills and two blocks while Hruby chipped in 15 assists and those two big aces late in the third set.
Kelsey Green paced Elkhorn South (19-13) with 14 kills while Gregan had 12 and Rogers 11. Freshman Sarah Swanson had eight kills and six blocks while setter Ashley Knight dished out 47 assists.
The only post-match disappointment for the SkyHawks was the fact the team did not receive any hardware for winning its district. It's going to take a substate victory to claim something new for the trophy case.
“That was kind of a bummer,” Banker said. “We'll need to get that done on Saturday.”
Elkhorn South ...... 19 27 23 18
Omaha Skutt ........ 25 25 25 25
ES (kills-aces-blocks): Kelsey Green 14-1-2, Emily Gregan 12-3-3, Leslie Booth 4-0-0, Ashley Knight 0-1-0, Sarah Swanson 8-0-6, Alison Rogers 11-1-0.
OS: Kierra Harder 12-0-0, Monica Hruby 1-2-0, Clare Snyder 7-0-1, Alex Banker 8-2-0, Brooke Heyne 3-0-0, Jayden Thies 4-0-3, Natalie Prucha 0-1-0, Claire Knust 8-0-2, McKenna Kirkpatrick 1-0-0, Brooke Swain 0-1-0, Taylor Holz 6-2-0.
Set assists: ES 49 (Knight 47, Green 1, Rogers 1). OS 46 (Banker 25, Hruby 15, Julia Faltin 4, Knust 1, Holz 1).