LINCOLN — Though she was disappointed after the match, Millard North coach Lindsay Peterson perhaps put it best.
“After what he’s been through this season, Mike Brandon deserves a win like that,” she said.
The Gretna coach guided his team to a 25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-9 victory over the defending Class A champion Mustangs on Friday night. His Dragons will play for their first championship.
Brandon’s daughter Roan was the only survivor of a June 17 crash that killed four of her Gretna classmates. The coach had considered sitting this season out, but his daughter, who had a broken collarbone and burns, helped change his mind.
Brandon led Gretna to state, where the Dragons won their opener Thursday against Millard West. But Millard North, which knocked out top-ranked Papillion-La Vista in the first round, presented an even bigger challenge.
The Mustangs, forced to forfeit 14 wins for using an ineligible player, entered state as the No. 8 seed. But the penalty seemed to give the team new resolve, evident in their top-flight play the last few weeks.
The Dragons captured the first set, but Millard North had also lost the opening set against Papio before roaring back to win the next three. The Mustangs captured the second set to tie the match.
Gretna went back to work in the third with the help of sophomore Skylar McCune, who rattled off seven straight points to turn a 19-17 deficit into a 24-19 lead. The Dragons then won the set on a Mustang net violation.
Brandon’s squad sprinted to an 11-4 lead in the fourth set and seemed on its way to victory. But this Millard North team is tough, and a 13-3 run put the Mustangs on top.
A kill by Eve Fountain gave the fourth set to Millard North, tying the match.
With both large student sections screaming, the teams headed out for the 15-point fifth set.
The Dragons went ahead 5-4 when a Millard North shot went long and refused to give up that advantage. The Mustangs got within a point three more times but couldn’t tie it.
Peterson used her timeouts at 10-7 and 12-8, but there was no stopping the Dragons. They finished off the emotional match on a kill by McCune, her 27th of the night.
“Skylar took some clutch swings,” Brandon said. “I thought everybody did a great job of putting her in a position to be successful.”
Lydia Yost had 17 kills for Gretna and Emma Prentice added 11 kills and three blocks. Setter Lauren Anderson finished with 58 assists and an important block late in the match.
The Mustangs also received big efforts. UNO commit McKenna Ruch had 25 kills, Fountain had 22 and setter Izzy Lukens dished out 62 assists.
“Millard North is incredibly talented,” Brandon said. “They’ve got great athletes, and you absolutely have to play your best to beat them.”
Now it’s on to the final for the Dragons, who have finished as the Class B runners-up twice. They are in their second season of Class A competition.
“To make it to the final is affirming in what we’re doing with the program,” Brandon said. “It starts with the freshmen, who push the varsity players in practice to make them better.”
On Saturday night, the Dragons will push hard for one more win.
Millard North (11-25).....19 25 19 25 9
Gretna (28-10)...............25 23 25 23 15
MN (kills-aces-blocks): Kate Galvin 0-1-0, Mollie Fee 8-0-0, Molly Plahn 6-0-5, Lauren Maciejewski 5-1-0, Eve Fountain 22-0-1, McKenna Ruch 25-0-1.
G: Skylar McCune 27-0-0, Lydia Yost 17-2-0, Lauren Anderson 1-0-2, Avery Kallman 3-0-2, Emma Prentice 11-0-3, Brooklyn Schuler 6-0-5, Kenedy Schaecher 0-2-0.
Set assists: MN 63 (Izzy Lukens 62, Galvin 1), G 63 (Anderson 58, Schaecher 4, Yost 1).