Gretna’s Emma Prentice goes for the kill against Elkhorn Oct. 30.

Another year and another state appearance for the Gretna volleyball team by defeating Elkhorn in four sets (25-16, 25-15, 23-25 and 25-19) in the District A-4 final Thursday to punch their berth to the NSAA State Volleyball Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena next Thursday.

It’s the 10th time in 11 years. Though, each season’s journey to reach the pinnacle of high school volleyball is never the same.

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.”

Gretna showed its versatility against Elkhorn 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 shifted the Dragons 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 24 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 seven aces against Elkhorn, including four by Kenedy Schaecher.

Skylar Mccune and Lydia Yost posted 13 and 10 kills and 23 and 16 digs, respectively, while Schaecher added 22 digs and Lauren Anderson netted 47 assists.

Dragons jumped out to a 9-4 lead before Elkhorn went one an 8-1 run. After Mccune’s kill tied the game at 13-all, the Dragons scored the next nine of 10 points to lead 22-14. The Dragons ended the match with the next-three points, including two kills by 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, gave the Dragons a 12-7 lead. Later, with the score 22-15, Gretna scored three-straight to take the set.

With Gretna leading 14-10, Elkhorn racked up five-straight points to lead 15-14 in the third set. 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 topic of conversation for 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, Elkhorn jumped ahead 7-2, and thenGretna scored the six of the next seven points to tie the set at 8-all. Later, the Dragons jumped ahead 20-17 on back-to-back kills by Schuler.

With the score 21-18, Gretna scored the next-four points, including a kill by 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.

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