LINCOLN — Stanton didn’t let its affinity for starting slow stop it from winning in its first-ever state-tournament appearance.

The Mustangs — who trailed in early in all five sets — defeated Crofton 26-24, 20-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-12 at Lincoln Southwest on Thursday in the first round of the Class C-2 tournament.

“We talked about that every single set — let’s not play the behind game. For some reason, the last half of the season we’ve been playing the behind game. We’ve been playing timid,” Stanton coach Tracy Kuester-Burtwistle said. “I think they were a little less timid (in the fifth set), but we’ve been playing that way for a while. We have that mind set, we know how to finish and they want to finish.”

After facing early margins in each of the first four sets, the Mustangs fell behind 2-0 in the fifth. But they didn’t fall any further, tying the set 3-3 on one of Chantelle Christensen’s match-high 19 kills before taking their first lead at 5-4 on a Crofton net violation.

A Christensen block on a Monica Arens’ kill attempt pushed the lead to 13-10 before the teams traded the final four points, with Stanton claiming the win on a service error by the Warriors.

“I think that was a turning point for us. Chantelle had a fantastic game for us,” Kuester-Burtwistle said. “We’re a team that uses our outsides a lot and, right now, our outsides are a bit off. So we brought it into the middle, and Chantelle did a fantastic job for us.”

After falling down 8-3 in the opening set, Stanton’s defense helped turn things around with three points on extended volleys while working to a 21-21 tie. A Crofton net violation gave Stanton its initial lead before the Mustangs fought off a set point to take a 26-24 win on an ace by Oestreich.

In the second set, Crofton didn’t allow Stanton to bounce back — at least fully — from a slow start.

The Warriors built leads of 10-3 and 21-12 before fighting off a Mustang rally. After six-straight Stanton points had cut the lead to 24-20, Crofton earned the set victory when the Mustangs were unable to return an Arens slam that ended a long volley.

“They really rallied today and really did a lot of things we asked of them,” Crofton coach Susie Johnson said. “Everything we told them in practice, they applied it and did it. That’s about all we can expect.”

A 9-3 deficit in the third set was erased when freshman Jessie Brandl capped a 6-1 run with a kill to tie the score at 17. Stanton then scored eight of the next 11 points to close out the set, with Christensen and Hiliary Huss combining for seven kills and senior Alison Wade recording a pair of solo blocks.

Arens and Kelsey Sanger took over for Crofton in the fourth set, combining for eight kills and three blocks. Still, Stanton managed to cut its early 9-3 deficit to 22-19. An Arens kill provided a pivot for the Warriors, who then took advantage of a pair of Stanton mistakes to close out the set.

Arens finished with 13 kills and 10 blocks, while Sanger added 14 kills and 24 digs.

“They’re my go-to people. If we have to rely on them, we heavily rely on them,” Johnson said. “These girls came around to find their confidence. We went into a slump mid-season, and I was getting pretty nervous. I’m proud that they came together as a team.”

Last year’s runner-up, Crofton closes the year at 20-10.

Stanton (32-3) will face Shelby-Rising City in Friday’s semifinals. The Huskies, who defeated Stanton in the district final, advanced with an upset victory over second-seeded and defending champ Freeman.

“I think it’s really huge for the girls, being the first team to come down here and then getting that win,” Kuester-Burtwistle said. “We’re familiar with them (Shelby). It went down to five sets, so it should be a good match. We’ve had to clean up a few things, but we’ll be ready to go.”

Crofton (20-10) ........................................... 24 25 20 25 12

Stanton (32-3) ............................................ 26 20 25 19 15

CROFTON (20-10): Allison Tramp 9k, 3b, 7d; Samantha Stewart 8k, 3b, 8d; Josie Sanger 1a, 6d; Brittany Guenther 13d, 20s; Laure Steffen 4k, 5b, 2d; Kelsey Sanger 14k, 2b, 1a, 24d; Madison Johnson 5d, 21s; Monica Arens 13k, 10b, 2a, 8d; Katie Petersen 1k, 5b, 3d, 1s; Breanna Allen 26d.

STANTON (32-3): MacKenzie Brandl 1a, 10d; Jessie Brandl 11k, 25d; Hiliary Huss 8k, 1a, 24d, 20s; Leah Arens 2k, 1a, 11d, 2s; Bree Burtwistle 6k, 14d, 26s; Chantelle Christensen 19k, 2b, 1d; Alison Wade 5k, 2b, 4a, 5d.

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