Experience always helps when it comes to the state volleyball tournament.
Grand Island Central Catholic hopes that’s the case for this year.
The Crusaders have seven seniors, including two four-year varsity players, will be ending their careers at the state tournament.
Class C-2, No. 3 GICC makes its 32nd appearance at the state tournament, which is third all-time. The Crusaders take on No. 6 Summerland at 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln Southwest.
Crusader coach Sharon Zavala said experience has been a strength as many of the players were involved with its success in 2017 when they were Class C-1 state runner-up.
She also said depth has been a strength. GICC has played around 15 players during the course of the season.
“This will be the seniors’ third trip down to the state tournament so they know what the experience is like,” Zavala said. “We have nice mixture of experience and youth. We use a lot of players, more than probably any team that we’ve probably played. That has made it easier to help fix if a hitter is not having a good day because of matchups, we can go to another hitter and the same with our defense.”
Katie Maser and Kate McFarland are the two four-year players for GICC.
Maser, a Creighton commit, has added on to her school-record 3,811 career assists as she has 862 on the season. Libero Kate McFarland has a school-record 496 digs on the season.
“Those two players have done a lot for us over the years,” Zavala said. “Katie is always even keel — doesn’t get rattled in tight situations, she is always balanced. She is great to coach, is great to her teammates and a quiet leader on the court. She’s even got us some kills as well (66). And Kate has been a great defensive player for us. This is her first year at playing libero and she has done a great job.”
The Crusaders have been balanced this year as well. Senior twins Avery and Allison Kalvoda lead the way with 276 and 246 kills, respectively, while freshman Gracie Woods has 241 kills, and 6-1 Chloe Cloud has 135 kills and 73 blocks on the season.
“Avery and Allison have been strong attackers for us during their careers and they are having great senior seniors,” Zavala said. “Gracie is doing great for a freshman this season. Chloe is probably the best blocker we’ve had in years and for her only being a sophomore, she always a threat at the net.”
Seniors Lauryn Willman and Courtney Toner, along with Haily Asche have added some balance on the defensive end as the Crusaders have 2,030 digs on the season. To go along with McFarland’s numbers, Willman has added 368 digs and a team-high 52 ace serves, while Asche has 327 and Toner had 188 digs.
“Lauryn gives us great defensive effort as do Courtney and Haily. We really have a good core group in the back row with Kate,” Zavala said.
While the Crusaders may have state tournament experience on its side, so does Summerland, who is a first-year co-op with Ewing, Clearwater and Orchard. Ewing was state runner-up in Class D-2 the past two seasons.
Summerland has three players with over 200 kills, led by Ashley Koenig’s 230. Tiana Thramer, former Nebraska player Hayley Thramer’s younger sister, has chipped 218 kills and 106 blocks on the season.
Zavala said the Bobcats provide an interesting first-round test for GICC.
“They are a dangerous team because they are very athletic, and they were in the D-2 state finals as Ewing,” Zavala said.
Many volleyball observers are saying Class C-2 is a three-team race with No. 1 Superior, No. 2 Hastings St. Cecilia and GICC. But Zavala doesn’t see it that way, especially with the district final format that’s been used in the past few years.
“You get to the state tournament with the new district final format, I think it’s getting the better quality teams down to the state tournament,” Zavala said. “Our biggest challenge is that we’ll need to serve well and if we can serve our areas well, then we will do well.”