LINCOLN – St. Paul suffered its first lost set in 35 matches this season during the Class C-1 state semifinals Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
But the Wildcats still kept that record perfect in the match category.
After suffering its first set loss of the season, the C-1 No. 1 Wildcats responded in improving to 35-0 with a 23-25, 25-22, 25-15, 25-18 win over No. 4 Broken Bow.
“We really weren’t expecting to go undefeated in sets during the season,” said senior Brooke Poppert, who had a team-high 17 kills. “(The rest of the match) showed how we can come back from that.”
The win puts St. Paul into the state finals for the first time in school history and the Wildcats will play No. 3 Lincoln Lutheran, which swept No. 2 and two-time defending champion Wahoo, at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Wildcat coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said he’s proud of the way St. Paul responded after the first set loss.
“It could have gone a bunch of different ways,” he said. “For us to come back and play better after the first set, I think that says what we’ve been about all year.”
Broken Bow jumped out on the Wildcats early at 9-4 and had the advantage for most of the first set. A Majesta Valasek kill put the Indians up 23-21 before Teegan Hansel and Josie Jakubowski had back-to-back kills to tie the match. But two St. Paul errors gave the Indians a 1-0 lead.
“I don’t think it hit the players like it should have, but they were pretty excited about doing that,” Broken Bow coach Skyler Morris said.
In the second set, St. Paul broke a 15-all tied with three Hansel kills and a block for a 21-16 lead. The Wildcats did have to fight off Broken Bow as a Jenna Jakubowski kill at the end of the second set evened the match.
As the match went on St. Paul’s balance started to show. Poppert’ 17th kill came on match point, while Jakubowski had 16 and Hansel chipped in 13 for the Wildcats. Olivia Poppert had 54 assists, while Paige Lukasiewicz led the defense with 18 digs.
Morris said that balance made it difficult for the Indians.
“They don’t make mistakes,” Morris said. “They have a lot of weapons and their defense is just very smooth. It was hard for us to find a hole.”
Koehn-Fairbanks, who is a St. Paul graduate, said getting the Wildcats into their first state final is a special moment and the credit goes to the players.
“There are too many emotions right now. I have an entire team of girls that care so deeply about what they are doing,” Koehn-Fairbanks said. “They put in so much time in the offseason and behind the scenes to do everything right. They listen to the coaches and try hard in everything that they do.”
Valasek led the Indians with 16 kills, while Kailyn Scott had 35 set assists and Emily Trotter paced the defense with 23 digs.
Broken Bow plays in the third-place match against Wahoo at 9 a.m. at Lincoln East. Morris said the loss hurts but felt the Indians really battled.
“I can’t fault my kids because they played so hard,” Morris said. “They wanted this bad. Emotions got the best of us in the last two sets because we haven’t put in losing situation since September. Being able to handle those emotions in a situation at state volleyball can get the best of you.”
Now the Wildcats can turn their attention to Lincoln Lutheran. Koehn-Fairbanks said a key in that match is to try and slow down Wichita State recruit Marriah Buss, who had 19 kills in the Warriors’ win.
“She is definitely the key for Lincoln Lutheran, but they have good players around her too,” he said. “We know it’s going to be one of those matches where we need to slow her down.”
The Wildcats goal entering the season was going “One Step Farther” and Poppert said it feels good to get that goal but it would feel better if St. Paul wins the school’s first state title.
“I’m glad we accomplished the goal we set for the year but we want more,” she said. “We want that state championship and to bring it back to our community.”