Northwest got Central Conference Tournament play started off on the right foot, rolling to a pair of victories Thursday night at Rosencrants Gymnasium.
The Class B No. 7-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Vikings opened with a 25-6, 25-12 win over Lexington and then rode the wave of momentum to down an 18-win Seward squad 25-16, 25-15.
Northwest will wrap up the pool-play portion of the tournament with home matches on Saturday at 11 a.m. against Schuyler and 1 p.m. against York.
Following completion of pool play, the top six teams will advance to play an additional match at Northwest. The third- and fifth-place matches are scheduled for 3 p.m. with the championship slated for 4 p.m.
“Obviously, we’re hoping to play in the championship, but we have to take care of business with Schuyler and York on Saturday,” said Northwest coach Lindsay Harders, whose team has won four of its last five matches. “I just want us to play consistently and at a high level all the time, no matter who we’re playing and what level they’re playing at.
“We want to be focused on playing our game and control our side.”
“Focused” aptly described the Vikings’ performance against Seward (18-11).
After trailing 7-3 in the first set, Northwest (15-12) powered its way to a 19-14 lead on a kill by Ellie Apfel. Ahead 20-16, Apfel then had a kill and a block sandwiched around a Kinzi Havranek ace serve to put the Vikings up 23-16 and they closed the set with the help of back-to-back attack errors by the Bluejays.
Northwest stormed to leads of 6-0, 8-3 and 18-5 in the second set before Seward rallied. The Bluejays cut their deficit to 21-13, but a net violation, serving error, passing error and a kill by Viking junior Rylie McNelis ended the match.
“Seward committed more errors than they’re accustomed to and I really expected that match to go three sets — I wanted to win it in two, but I was expecting three,” Harders said. “We knew Seward has some good hitters and can take care of the ball. They’re a pretty aggressive team.”
After struggling to start fast for much of the season, Harders said she was pleased to see the Vikings take control early.
“We definitely had strong starts in both sets, which was key,” Harders said. “Because if we don’t have that, it seems like we have a tendency to let a lot of teams stay with us.”
McNelis led Northwest’s balanced hitting attack against Seward with six kills and she also had seven assists, while Macey Bosard and Lauren Hauser added four kills apiece. Whitney Brown recorded a match-high 14 assists to go with 13 digs and Sophia McKinney finished with nine digs for the Vikings.
Sophia Turek and Abbey Ringler each had five kills and Jaci Opfer had 14 assists for Seward. However, the Bluejays were hampered by seven attack errors in the first set and five more in the second.
“It was just difficult for us to try and sustain any type of momentum tonight, but I was happy that we continued to play hard and competed well, coming off a couple of losses on Tuesday,” said Seward coach Tom Pallas, whose team suffered three-set losses to Crete and Milford two days earlier. “We have kind of found ourselves in situations lately where we’ve missed three or four attacks together and that just kind of changes the momentum a little bit.
“Against a team like Northwest that doesn’t make a lot of errors, you’ve got to limit your mistakes if you’re going to stay in the match.”
The Vikings were never pressed in their opening match against Lexington (11-17).
Claire Caspersen had eight kills and two blocks and Hauser finished with six kills for Northwest against the Minutemaids. Brown had nine assists and nine digs, McNelis had six assists and Taylor Retzlaff and McKinney had five digs apiece for the Vikings.
“It was really nice to see both our passing and hitting be really strong at the same time,” Harders said. “Sometimes, it seems like we have one or the other, so for us to be able to connect on both ends was big. We were able to play well in some good stretches.
“Lauren Hauser was a really big presence for us tonight in both matches and Claire Caspersen and Ellie Apfel both really brought it in the front row. Our hitters were putting the ball down with consistency and that really helped our passers get confident.”