Gretna's Avery Mackling serves against Elkhorn in the District A-4 final Wednesday.

Another year and another state appearance for the Gretna volleyball team by clinching a state berth for the 10th time in 11 years Thursday. Though, each season’s journey to reach the pinnacle of high school volleyball is never the same.

The Dragons defeated Elkhorn in four sets (25-16, 25-15, 23-25 and 25-19) in the District A-4 final at Gretna High School to punch their berth to the NSAA State Volleyball Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena next Thursday.

Gretna finished the regular season with a 26-10 record.

“I thought we had a good game plan and it looked like it was successful in the first and second set and then in the third, we didn’t execute as well as we had and their hitters got going,” Gretna head coach Mike Brandon said. “Credit to Elkhorn, they played tough when they could’ve folded their tents after the second set and in the third set they played harder than had the first two and it was enough to win the third set.”

Gretna showed its versatility against Elkhorn Thursday that guided them to state tournament this season. The Antlers, for the most part, played solid defense against Gretna’s outside hitters on kill attempts, which then the Dragons shifted to the middle for points in key situations.

“Last year we depended on a lot on our left sides and outside scoring. This year, I thought, defensively our blocking was a lot more effective,” Brandon said. “Obviously, having height on the net helps and then our back row defense was pretty special this year. Hopefully, that will serve us well at state.”

Middle blockers Emma Prentice and Brooklyn Schuler were the two relied upon for critical points throughout the four sets. The pair totaled 18 kills and blocked six shots for points.

It’s been a hidden recipe for the Dragons, who have over 40 more blocks than last season.

“I thought our middles did a great job, maybe the best job they did all year scoring points. They were aggressive. They put a lot of pressure on our (outside hitters) and our left side, especially,” Brandon said. “We knew that had to be their scouting report on us, so we’ve been working on our middles getting in and scoring points. They did a great job and Lauren (Anderson) did a great job of reading those opportunities and setting those middles.”

Furthermore, Gretna has over 45 more serving aces than last season. The Dragons totaled five aces against Elkhorn, including three by Kenedy Schaecher.

Elkhorn started the first set with an ace before the Dragons responded to lead 9-4. Elkhorn then went one an 8-1 run to lead 12-10. After Gretna’s Skylar Mccune’s kill tied the game at 13-all, the Dragons scored four-straight points that led to an Elkhorn timeout.

The Antlers scored out of the timeout and then Gretna scored five-straight points to lead 22-14. After Elkhorn moved the score to 22-16, the Dragons scored the next-three points, including two kills by Emma Prentice, to win the first set 25-16.

In set two, Elkhorn led 7-6 before five-straight points by Gretna, including three kills and a block by Prentice, which led to an Antler timeout with the Dragons leading 12-7. Later, the Dragons led 18-10 before the score moved to 22-15. Like the first set, Gretna scored three-straight to take the set on a serving error by Elkhorn, a Elkhorn kill attempt that went out of bounds and a Gretna block to go up 2-0 in the best of five match.

The Dragons jumped ahead 4-2 on an ace by Schaecher in the third set before three-straight points by Elkhorn gave them a 6-5 lead. Gretna responded with four-straight points to lead 9-6 and then with the score 14-10, Elkhorn racked up five-straight points to lead 15-14.

Gretna came back to tie the match at 21-all, but Elkhorn scored four of the next six points to take the match 25-23.

Finishing opponents has been a conversation that Brandon has preached to the Dragons. In the last-four Gretna losses, the Dragons have won the first set, including leading Elkhorn South 2-0 in the semifinal of the Metro Tournament last week.

Brandon said that wasn’t the same pattern in the third set.

“We talked about, ‘Hey we need to finish matches’, so their aware of it. It’s not something where we’re like we can lay back,” Brandon said. “We might’ve done it against Elkhorn South, but I didn’t get that sense here. I just thought Elkhorn played really well and we didn’t execute as well than in the first and second.”

The fourth set presented a back and forth battle before Gretna took control late. After Elkhorn jumped ahead 7-2, Gretna scored the six of the next seven points to tie the set at 8-all. Later, after a back and forth with Elkhorn and Gretna taking every other point, the Dragons jumped ahead 19-17 on a kill by Brooklyn Schuler that led to an Elkhorn timeout.

Schuler added another kill out of the timeout to lead 20-17 and then with the score 21-18, Gretna scored the next-four points, including a kill by Lydia Yost and a block by Prentice, to win the district title.

“Elkhorn played tough in the fourth again. We know we don’t want to go to the fifth because anybody can win the fifth set, so we were patient and we stayed aggressive at the end, which is something we’ve been really good at this year,” Brandon said. “It’s kind of hard to teach that to teams because it’s tight at the end and you want to just be careful, but this team has just been aggressive in those moments.”

• Gretna swept Omaha Northwest (25-12, 25-12 and 25-11) in the District A-4 semifinal Oct. 29.

Gretna's Shaina Russell finished with nine kills and Morgan Sangl tallied seven digs, while Avery Mackling and Anderson added 14 and 13 assists, respectively. As a team, the Dragons totaled 15 serving aces, including four by Anderson.

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