The state tournament is getting to be a regular destination for O’Neill St. Mary’s.
The 26-5 Cardinals will head back to Lincoln for the fifth straight year after sweeping Wynot in the Class D2-2 district final. St. Mary’s also has some unfinished business at state after a runner-up finish in 2015, which snapped its two-year championship run.
“I think our whole team is pretty motivated,” coach McKenzie Connot said. “We’ve got five senior starters so they wanted to get back there.”
Connot has her own motivation as a 2010 graduate of the school. She is in her third season as coach, taking over for Nicole Renshaw.
“We have a lot of pride in the program,” Connot said. “And it’s nice still being connected to my school.”
The Cardinals are led by Logan Connot — the coach’s younger sister — and Hattie Blumenstock. Connot has 229 kills and 42 blocks, while Blumenstock has 228 kills and 33 blocks.
McKenzie said she has enjoyed coaching her sister in her final varsity season.
“I can honestly say she’s one of our hardest-working girls,” the coach said. “She’s earned her spot, though I’m probably guilty of being harder on her than the other players.”
St. Mary’s has three others with at least 130 kills. They are Brianna Bauer (176), Hailey Eiler (157) and Breanna Hedstrom (132).
Setter Taylor Colman has 845 assists, and Bauer has a team-leading 257 digs.
Coach Connot said despite the Cardinals’ return trip to state, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing this season.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster at times,” she said. “It seems like sometimes we’re stepping up and other times stepping back, but I think we’re playing our best volleyball right now.”
St. Mary’s will need to be at its best to navigate a tough D-2 field that includes defending state champion Exeter-Milligan and undefeated Hampton. The Cardinals also must face Wynot — the team it beat in the district final — in the first round Thursday.
“Playing them again so soon can be a good thing or a bad thing,” Connot said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
The coach added that her team will not be peeking ahead to a possible semifinal match against Exeter-Milligan, the team that defeated St. Mary’s in last year’s D-2 final.
“In volleyball, you’ve got to bring it each night,” she said. “That’s especially true at state, so we’ll need to take them one at a time.”