Hastings has used the motto “We over me” during the course of the 2019 volleyball season.
That motto has seemed to work for the Tigers this season. That has helped them overcome many obstacles during the season.
“We have our team-first mentality and it has worked really well for us,” Hastings coach Dave Hepner said. “I read that quote to the players every day before practice. After we warm up, we go to the white board and go over the quote.”
That togetherness has helped the Class B, No. 8 Tigers come together and earn a trip to the state tournament for the first time since 2008.
Hastings (21-11) takes on top-ranked and four-time defending champion Omaha Skutt at 1:30 p.m. Thursday on the south court at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Hepner said it felt good to see the Tigers accomplish their No. 1 goal at the start of the season, which was to qualify for state.
“It’s been a long time coming and I’m really glad I got the monkey off my back as a coach but more happy for the players,” Hepner said. “It’s been their goal since day one and for them to reach it has been great to see.”
And the Tigers had to earn some payback against Aurora after the Huskies swept them in the B-6 subdistrict tournament at Northwest last Tuesday. The Tigers were able to get one of the eight wildcards for a district final matchup and got a chance to play at home. It worked to the Tigers’ advantage as they beat Aurora in four sets in the B-8 final.
The win was the Tiger’s first district volleyball title for a state berth since 1997, even though they had two trips that were earned by the wildcard in 2002 and 2008.
“(Losing to Aurora last Tuesday) might have been one of the best things that happened to us,” Hepner said. “I feel like we didn’t show up well in the subdistrict and Aurora really played well. They were on top of their game and we didn’t have much of an answer. It made our girls aware that they need to be on top of their game every single game every time. We cleaned some things both offensively and defensively that helped us be successful.”
Hepner had to make a lot of changes to his lineup before the start of and during the season. Many of the current players were not playing in their same positions as they were last year.
He moved Dacey Sealey from outside hitter to setter, moved Brooke Aspen from middle to outside, Emma Markle played middle to start the year but was moved to rightside as Hayden Stephensen moved to the middle.
Aspen leads the way with 322 kills and 390 digs, while Haley Schram, who he kept in the middle, added 231 kills and 56 blocks, while Aubrey Cress, who didn’t play varsity last year, has 121 kills. Sealey has dished out 632 assists.
Hepner said those changes helped the Tigers be a better team.
“Hats off to the kids for buying into that. That goes back to the quote ‘We over me,’” Hepner said. “If someone was having an off day or feeling a little attitude or something else, I would go to that board and point that message out and they would be like ‘You’re right coach.’”
The Tigers are going to have their work cut out for them against Skutt (27-4), who have six players with over 100 kills. The Skyhawks have Nebraska commit and U.S.A. Youth national team member Lindsay Krause, who leads the team with 305 kills, along with Creighton recruit Megan Skovsende, who had chipped in 273 kills and Ava Heyne has 181 kills and 36 blocks. Setter Allison Gary, an Arizona State commit, has 1,088 set assists.
“We’re going to be outmanned and outmatched in almost every spot, but it’s an exciting opportunity to play a great team like them,” Hepner said. “The girls have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’re not going to stop them but hopefully we can do enough to get them out of system and help us be successful.
“But I just want the kids to go out there to play hard and leave everything out on the floor. If the girls are going to go down, go down against the best.”