After battling through four close sets with Gretna, Elkhorn South dominated the fifth to earn a return trip to the state volleyball tournament.
The Storm defeated the host Dragons 25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 23-25, 15-4 in the Class B-7 substate final. Elkhorn South (20-13) earned its third straight state tourney berth while Gretna (23-11), last year’s state runner-up, saw its string of state tourney trips snapped at four.
“We expected a tough match and we got it,” Storm coach Briana Ritter said. “I knew we were not going to walk out of here with a sweep.”
Elkhorn South, which defeated Gretna twice earlier this season, did have a chance to get the sweep. The Storm finished off the first set on a kill by sophomore Kelsey Green and ended the second set the same way.
But the Dragons kept the match alive in the third set behind sophomore hitter Halie McArdle, who had seven of her match-high 30 kills in the set. Gretna won the set when a shot by Elkhorn South’s Emily Gregan went long.
The fourth set followed the same pattern as the previous three, with the lead bouncing back and forth much of the way. The Dragons were finally able to close it out on a kill by McArdle, setting up the first-to-15 fifth set.
“We knew they weren’t going to lay down and die,” Ritter said. “I was a little nervous heading into that fifth set, but our girls really responded.”
The score was tied for the last time at 2 before the Storm put together an improbable 12-point run. Freshman Sarah Swanson was serving and chipped in a pair of aces, including one that put Elkhorn South on the verge of victory at 14-2.
Gretna fought off two match points before junior Leslie Booth ended the match with a kill.
“We had some momentum going into that last set, but they did a great job of moving the ball around,” Dragons coach Mike Brandon said. “(Storm setter Ashley) Knight had us guessing the whole time.”
Ritter said the fifth-set difference was an attitude adjustment by her team.
“We stopped trying to hit harder and started hitting smarter,” she said. “And it’s nice to have so many strong hitters out there.”
Gregan led the Storm with 22 kills, including five in the fifth set. Green added 14 kills, Alli Rogers 12, Booth nine and Swanson six.
Knight, a 5-9 junior, dished out 56 assists.
Gretna kept the match close despite playing without senior outside hitter Natalie Mickelson, who is sidelined by mononucleosis. Brandon said McArdle has been counted on even more the past few weeks to make up for that loss.
“I told Halie that she was going to get a lot more swings,” the coach said. “I was a little afraid her arm might fall off today, but she did a great job.”
Sophomore Amanda Young had nine kills for the Dragons while freshman setter Cameron Scott had 35 assists and four aces.
With the exception of Mickelson, most of Gretna’s top players will return next season.
“We’re pretty young, so that’s a positive,” Brandon said. “Playing Elkhorn South was a tough draw for us, but hopefully we can learn from this.”
Elkhorn South...........................25 25 23 23 15
Gretna......................................23 23 25 25 4
ES (kills-aces-blocks): Kelsey Green 14-4-2, Emily Gregan 22-1-1, Leslie Booth 9-1-0, Ashley Knight 1-1-0, Sarah Swanson 6-2-1, Alli Rogers 12-0-1.
G: Katie Wewel 0-1-0, Lexie Schwartz 0-0-1, Hanna Ehmke 1-1-0, Emily Brown 3-0-1, Amanda Young 9-1-0, Cameron Scott 2-4-0, Sara Rahmanzai 5-0-1, Halie McArdle 30-2-0, Taylor Atkins 0-3-0.
Set assists: ES 59 (Knight 56, Green 2, Swanson 1). G 48 (Scott 35, Ehmke 10, Schwartz 1, Young 1, Jaisa Russell 1).