LINCOLN – Class C-1 No. 1-rated St. Paul extended its season-long dominance through the first round of the state tournament Thursday.
The Wildcats swept No. 5 Battle Creek 25-17, 25-23, 25-17 at Lincoln North Star to improve to 34-0 and a perfect 82-0 in sets.
St. Paul coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said that even with his team’s success this season, there were questions entering this match.
“We still have a really young team, and you never know at state what it’s going to be like,” he said. “You can’t exactly prepare for it. Even being here last year, you never know what you’re going to get.
“I thought early on some of our ball control things were shaky like making some mistakes that we hadn’t made all year. Once we settled in, I think our serving in the first set really turned us. It gave us a little bit of breathing space.”
The Wildcats used an 8-1 run in the opening set to break an 11-all tie and take control.
The biggest drama of the match came in the second set. Battle Creek (28-6) overcame a 14-9 deficit to take a 22-20 lead.
But St. Paul scored five of the next six points to take a 2-0 lead with an ace from Camryn Morgan closing out the set.
“We kept believing in each other and said that we could do it,” said junior outside hitter Josie Jakubowski, who had a team-high 12 kills. “Trusting each other really helped us.”
Battle Creek coach Cody Wintz said the Bravettes overcame some early struggles to take the late lead in the second.
“Our passing was a lot better at that point,” he said. “Our serve receive struggled at the end of that first set and the early part of the second set. We kind of got that cleaned up and the girls got some confidence at the end of that second set. …
“We did have momentum going, but St. Paul did a great job at the end there of fighting. They did a great job all three sets to be honest with you.”
Koehn-Faribanks said the Wildcats don’t feel any extra pressure because of their perfect record in sets.
“The girls aren’t expecting to go through undefeated (in sets),” he said. “They just want to win. During our timeout (with the set tied 19-19) we talked that we don’t back down, we stay aggressive, and win or lose it doesn’t matter if we play aggressive St. Paul volleyball the whole time through. I thought they did a good job of doing that.
“The girl missed her serve at 22-20, but we still had to fight a few more points to get ahead. We stayed aggressive and got the ace at the end.”
Going up 2-0 instead of being tied 1-1 for the first time all season was a major momentum boost.
“We’re not expecting to go undefeated in sets, but knowing that we could get it done in three was nice,” Jakubowski said.
Brooke Poppert had nine kills and Teegan Hansel eight for the Wildcats, who received 34 set assists from Olivia Poppert.
Battle Creek was led by 14 kills by Tria McLean. Riley Seifert added 12.