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110319_Class B-7 District Finals: Alliance vs Grand Island Northwest

Every year, the Northwest volleyball team always seems to lose a good senior class to graduation.

But that never seems to bother the Vikings. They always seem to find a way to keep the program near the top.

That happens to be the same case this year. After losing another strong senior class to graduation, a new group of athletes have kept the tradition going.

Because of that, Northwest is making the state tournament for the 19th consecutive season.

That mark is third all-time. Northwest was tied with Omaha Marian but the Crusaders failed to make the state tournament after losing to Millard North during district play.

The Vikings will take on No. 2 Waverly at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the south court at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“It’s not the same group of kids, it’s always a different bunch each season,” NW coach Lindsey Harders said. “It’s amazing how you lose a good bunch of seniors every year but we’re just able to rebuild every year. That a tribute to all the hard work we do program-wise and work with everyone on the team, whether it’s the junior varsity or varsity.”

But there were questions for Northwest at the start of the season. The Vikings were 11-11 to start, but managed to win 10 of their next 12 matches to earn a berth to the state tournament.

Harders said there’s always that added pressure for the Vikings because of the streak.

“It was more pressure because we lost a good group of seniors last year and we didn’t know where we would be at this year,” Harders said. “The girls just bought in and fought hard all the way through the season. We started shaky but the girls kept getting better and better.”

But there are usually some key pieces that always seem to be sticking around for a while. That piece for the Vikings has been Whitney Brown. The Norrthwest senior has been on the varsity squad the past three seasons and has made some kind of contribution. This season, she has 147 kills, 477 set assists, 433 digs and 29 ace serves.

“She’s a great athlete who understands the court,” Harders said. “She’s had her share of games that were struggles but is a true athlete who knows how to help her teammates when they are struggling. She has shown so much leadership this season.”

Lauren Hauser and Macey Bosard were also key pieces to the Vikings success last year. They are doing the same thing this with Bosard leading the way with 210 kills and 322 digs, while Hauser had 200 kills and 31 blocks.

And the Vikings had to make numerous changes during the season, just to see what would work. Claire Caspersen, a 6-0 junior, was brought in to play the right side. and has contributed with 88 kills. That allowed Rylie McNelis to move to play both setter and outside and has 142 kills and 399 assists.

Senior libero Addie Warner went down with a torn ACL injury and that allowed sophomore Sophia McKinney to step in and have 414 digs on the season.

Harders said a few younger players have stepped in and done a nice job. Junior Ellie Apfel has contributed with 160 kills and 27 blocks, while sophomore Taylor Retzlaff has played defensive specialist and has 127 digs.

“Sophia has come in and done a great job playing libero,” Harders said. “At the same time, we’ve been struggling offensively and needed a stronger attack. Claire was playing well on JVs and we brought her in on varsity and she’s done a great job. Rylie and Whitney moved to the outside just because when they play rightside, they are playing against a bigger block. It’s been pretty solid right now and our balance is huge.”

Northwest will get a rematch with Waverly for the third time this season. The Vikings lost both times, including a 2-1 loss in the Beatrice Invite and a 3-0 loss at Waverly Sept. 19. Waverly has five players with over 100 kills, with 6-2 junior Whitney Lauenstein leading the way with 414 kills. Nebraska recruit Annika Evans has dished out 871 assists.

Harders said she felt Northwest competed hard in both matches

“I thought we did some good things in all of the sets we played against them,” Harders said. “But they are a good team. Annika has beautiful hands and can get the ball to a 6-2 player like Lauenstein, that’s really helpful. She’s a great hitter but they have good players around her.”

But Harders feels Northwest is a completely different team than the last time the two teams played. The second time was after losing Werner to an ACL injury and McKinney was playing the role for the first time.

“We really weren’t sure of ourselves, especially the second time since that was Sophia’s first varsity match as libero,” she said. “It all comes down to serving and passing. If we do those parts well, it should be a great match Thursday.”

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