The seven seniors on the Grand Island Central Catholic volleyball team finished their careers with a bang.
Katie Maser, Kate McFarland, twins Avery and Allison Kalvoda, Courtney Toner, Lauryn Willman and Elli Steenson all helped guide the Crusaders to the school’s 10th state championship in school history.
After falling to Hastings St. Cecilia three times during the season, GICC got the Hawkettes for the fourth time in the Class C-2 state final and came away with a 26-24, 25-22, 25-15 win Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
In four years, the seniors have been a part of 114 victories with three state tournament appearances — which also includes the 2017 Class C-1 state runner-up — during their careers.
GICC coach Sharon Zavala, who has 1,064 wins in 45 seasons, said she’s really enjoyed coaching this group.
“I think they’ve been great ambassadors for the program because they are so much fun and great to the younger kids,” Zavala said. “They’ve been easy to coach. They’ve had a lot of success over the years. I thought their leadership was effective, especially at the end of the season.”
Maser and McFarland had the most experience as they were starters throughout their four-year career.
Maser finished with a school-record 3,912 career assists — a mark that will be listed as the Class C-1 record because the setter played the majority of her matches in the larger class.
Maser said while having the record is nice, it was her teammates that helped her reach that mark.
“It’s a big honor and I couldn’t do it without my teammates, especially all my passers and my hitters,” Maser said. “I love them all. I’m just happy for all of us with how we did.”
While Zavala feels Maser is a quiet leader, she knows when to speak up, especially during a five-set win over Superior in the semifinals Friday. She said she saw Maser talk to the players before going out for the fifth set.
“She never shows emotion but is even keel,” Zavala said. “I’m not sure what she said but I’m sure it was animated and the other players responded. She was really en effective leader.”
McFarland was a rightside player for three years. But this year, Zavala decided to move her to the libero position after Jenna Lowry, who played the position for two years, graduated off of last year’s team. McFarland went on to finish the year with a school-record 559 digs.
“She did that while playing libero for one year,” she said. “She is such a great ball-handler that I thought we should try her at that position. She really picked it up fast.”
The Kalvoda sisters have both been on varsity since they were sophomores. Avery finished the season with 310 kills, while Allison added 279. The two finished with 34 and 33 state tournament kills, respectively. Zavala said they have improved each season.
“Avery has a great armswing and a very competitive person. It took Allison a while but she really improved during her career, especially late this season. They both had great state tournaments,” Zavala said.
Willman and Toner have mostly been used for serving and defensive purposes. Willman had a strong state tournament with her serving as she finished with 12 ace serves, including six against Superior Friday. She also finished with 50 digs during the state tournament, while Toner had 22 digs and five ace serves.
“Lauryn has always been a tough server but wasn’t as stronger. I started to play her more all-around because of defensive purposes. Her serving really improved when she did and she really did help us on the right side,” Zavala said. “Her serving made it tough on other team’s passers. And Courtney had to have surgery on her torn lebrum from her sophomore year and I don’t think she’s been as strong coming back but she’s a great server and a great coverage player. Her passing was key for us.”
Steenson was used sparingly during the season whenever the Crusaders needed another blocker. Zavala said the 5-9 senior was always ready.
“We used her on the rightside sometime but was used more as a middle,” she said. “She was a good role player and was a strong blocker.”
Zavala said she was happy to see the seniors finish their careers with a state title.
“I’m relieved for them because if there is a group that deserves a state championship, it’s this group,” she said. “They worked well together and without their teamwork, they might not have been state champions.”
While the Crusaders lose seven seniors, St. Cecilia also loses a few seniors as well.
Tori Thomas, Makenna Asher, Chloe McCauley and Emma Schneider who have helped the Hawkettes have another successful for coach Alan VanCura, who has 886 wins after his 42nd season.
St. Cecilia does return a few key players that should help them be successful next year.
Also, St. Paul brought home the Class C-1 state runner-up trophy after falling to Lincoln Lutheran in four sets in the final.
The Wildcats finished with one of their best seasons ever at 35-1 while dropping only four sets, which all came at the state tournament.
St. Paul loses only two seniors in Brooke Poppert and McKenna Anderson, so look for the Wildcats to be one of the top teams in Class C-1 again next year.
Broken Bow brought home the Class C-1 fourth-place trophy after losing to Wahoo in the third-place match in four sets.
Overall, the area went 8-8 during the state tournament with Grand Island Northwest, Hastings, Arcadia-Loup City, Central Valley and Giltner all falling in the first round Thursday.
Attention area coaches
You should have received All-Heartland Team information from via e-mail. If you have not, please let me know ASAP.
The All-Heartland Teams will be released in the Thanksgiving edition on Nov. 28.
Marc Zavala writes volleyball for the Independent.