Gretna defeated a pair of Millard schools Thursday and Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena to advance to the Class A state title match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center Saturday.
The fourth-seeded Dragons opened the tournament against No. 5 Millard West, who they in four sets (25-17, 11-25, 25-16 and 25-22) Thursday to advance to play No. 8 Millard North Friday.
“First set is a huge deal in these kind of matches, especially, at state. If you can get that first set under your belt then, I think, teams play a little bit more relaxed,” Gretna head coach Mike Brandon said. “I think, we relaxed a little too much in the second and credit to Millard West, they really stepped it up in the second set and took it to us.
“We just talked in between the second and third about ball handling a bit better on defense and doing everything a little bit better. We kind of lost our focus in the second set.”
After both teams scored to open the first set, the Dragons scored six-straight points for a 7-1 lead before the Wildcats cut the lead to 12-11. Gretna responded with five-straight points.
Kenedy Schaecher notched a serving ace during the six-point run and two during the five-point run. The senior libero totaled four aces in the game.
“She works very hard at practice and takes it seriously. She’s one of those kids that takes every rep very seriously,” Brandon said. “As a result, you know, she doesn’t need to take as many reps as other kids because some kids don’t put as much into every rep. So she’s just a very hard working kid that shows that in her skill set.”
Then with the score 21-14, Gretna scored four straight, including two kills by Skylar McCune, to take the first set.
Millard West took control in the second set. The Wildcats jumped out to a 13-3 lead before Gretna cut the deficit to 18-9. Millard West extended its lead to 21-10 before scoring the next four of five point to take the match.
Gretna responded in the third set by jumping out to a 6-1 lead and then after Millard West made the score 11-8, the Dragons scored four straight with three kills by Lydia Yost, to lead 15-8.
Then with the score 18-12, with help of a kill by Emma Prentice and two by McCune, Gretna scored four straight to lead 22-12 and give them an eventual set three win.
In the fourth set, the game was tied at 5-5 before Gretna scored four straight. Millard West came back to tie the set at 12-12 and then Gretna scored three of the next four to lead 16-13.
Then with the Dragons leading 24-21, Millard West’s serve sailed out of bounds to advance Gretna to the next round.
“We haven’t played (Millard North) since the first game of the year so it’ll be a fun challenge,” Brandon said. “You kind of look forward to these big matches. (With Millard North being defending state champions), you always want to knock off the queen, in this case.
“That’s why we train hard and in the offseason for these opportunities.”
Yost led the Dragons with 18 kills and added 14 digs and Lauren Anderson finished with 22 digs and 47 assists while Prentice tallied 12 digs. McCune totaled 17 kills and 14 digs.
While Yost patrolled the outside hitting and Prentice guarded the middle, the Dragons moved McCune throughout both spots when setting up the offense to keep the Wildcats off balanced.
“Skylar’s a kid that can hit about any set, so we tried to move her around,” Brandon said. “Give the defense different looks so they can’t settle in on one defense, and she just rolls with the punches and takes the swings whenever they come.”
In the semifinal, Gretna and No. 8 Millard North put on a show in a five-set match, but the Dragons came up victorious (25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 23-25 and 15-9) to stamp their spot in the Class A state title match.
“It was a very emotional. The match had you on the very edge of your seat. When you get to this point, you gotta get a little emotional,” Brandon said about the five-set battle.
The Dragons used a series of runs to win the first set. Gretna led 7-6 before scoring six-straight points to lead 13-6. With the score 14-9, the Dragons scored five of the next six and then led 24-16 before Millard North scored three straight.
On the next serve, a Millard North serving error gave the Dragons a 1-0 match lead.
In the second set was a back and forth with Millard North having a few more runs than Gretna. With Gretna leading 9-8, the Mustangs scored four straight before the Dragons came back to tie the set at 14-14.
With the set tied at 17-17, Millard North jumped ahead 19-17 and never let its lead fade to tie the match at 1-1.
Millard North took a 19-17 lead over Gretna in the third set before McCune took over. The Dragons scored the next nine points, including seven-straight kills by McCune, to take the third set.
“She’s just a gamer. She’s a very aggressive and fearless player, and I just can’t say enough about her,” Brandon said. “She believes in what she’s about to do.”
Gretna jumped ahead 6-1 in the fourth set before a serving ace by Schaecher and a kill by Yost extended its lead to 12-5. After a Gretna points, the Mustangs scored four straight before Gretna scored for a 14-10 score.
Millard North went on a 7-0 run to take a 17-14 lead. The Dragons crawled back to trail 24-23, but a blocked attempt sailed out of bounds to give the Mustangs the set.
In the fifth set, the Dragon defense went to work. A kill by McCune and block by gave Gretna a 4-3 lead. After a back and forth of possession, Gretna took a 10-7 with a block by Brooklyn Schuler and Avery Kallman that led to a Millard North timeout.
The Mustangs scored out of the timeout and then the Dragons scored four straight, including kill by Yost and McCune and a block by Anderson, to lead 14-8.
“(Defense) is something we’ve hung our hat on. I thought our defense played incredible,” Brandon said. “We just told them to grind and play as hard as you can and good things will happen. They did that and they just gave effort all day long.”
After Millard North scored, McCune ended the match with a kill to put Gretna in the title game.
“I’m going to go watch film all night and I am going to break down whoever wins this match,” Brandon said. “I’ll sleep on Monday. I don’t need sleep now. It’s all about what you’re willing to do and I’m willing to stay up all night, if that’s what it takes to be ready for (Saturday).”