By Marc Zavala
ORD – Arcadia-Loup City was playing in its first-ever Lou-Platte Conference Tournament final.
St. Paul showed the Rebels what it takes to win that conference tournament title.
The Class C-1, No. 1 Wildcats used a balanced attack with 38 kills to help claim their fourth-straight tournament title with a 25-16, 25-9, 25-17 victory over the Rebels Thursday in Ord.
Senior Brooke Poppert, who has been a part of all four conference tournament titles, said it’s always a goal to win it.
“A four-peat is definitely something we were going for and we knew it was possible,” Poppert said. “I’m excited that we were able to win it again.”
Sophomore setter Olivia Poppert, Brooke’s younger sister, had plenty of options to go to in dishing out 29 assists. Josie Jakubowski led the Wildcat attack with 10 kills, while freshman Jenna Jakubowski chipped in nine and Teegan Hansel had eight.
St. Paul coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said he felt the Wildcats, who improved to 28-0 and haven’t dropped a set yet this year, were more efficient than the last time the two teams in a two-set Wildcat sweep on Sept. 10.
“We had a nice night attacking the ball. Before the match, I wrote on the board that if they give us an easy attack, we want to pass, set, crush because I think we missed some easy opportunities the last time we played them,” he said. “I think the girls were going to swing hard on easy attempts and we did a great job of hammering the ball.
“We need to be balanced for us to be successful. That’s been the secret to our success this year.”
St. Paul’s serving also gave Arcadia-Loup City problems. The Wildcats had six ace serves, but the serving caused the Rebels to pass over free balls to the Wildcats, which led to many easy attacks.
ALC coach Dusti VanSlyke said St. Paul just does so many things well, especially passing. Paige Lukasiewicz led the Wildcat defense with 11 digs, while Noel Roan had eight.
“They are a good serving team, a good hitting team and a great passing team,” VanSlyke said. “They are just an all-around good team that’s very consistent. They serve tough and don’t really lack a position this year.”
Arcadia-Loup City hung with the Wildcats in the first set after getting behind 4-0 to start the match. Capri Dethlefs had three kills to help them get back to 17-16.
But a Josie Jakubowski kill gave serve back to St. Paul. McKenna Anderson served a 7-0 run which ended on an ace serve to give St. Paul the opening set. Jakubowski had three more kills during the run.
Second set was all Wildcats as they led 13-3 lead and never looked back. The Rebels hurt their chances with 11 hitting errors.
The third set was close with the two teams tied at 8-all. But St. Paul pulled away as Hansel had three straight kills to put them up 20-12 and cruised from there.
Calli Bauer and Dethlefs each led Arcadia-Loup City with seven kills, while Nadia VanSlyke, Dusti’s daughter, had 17 assists.
Despite the loss, coach VanSlyke said the Rebels had nothing to hang their heads about.
“There’s been a lot of years where we didn’t make it out of the first round in this tournament,” she said. “Making a trip to the finals was a goal of ours. It’s just another stepping stone for us.”
While most tournaments during the season are the best 2-out-of-3, the Lou-Platte Conference Tournament plays the best 3-out-of-five, which is something Koehn-Fairbanks likes and felt St. Paul had to play hard to get this title.
“We love the format that the Lou-Platte Conference Tournament has. With it being 3-out-of-5, it helps get you ready for districts,” Koehn-Fairbanks said. “It gives you a chance to play hard every match and even though we’ve won it the past four years, there are still some good teams in our conference. I credit the girls for what they did tonight.”
Brooke Poppert said while it’s nice to win the conference title, there’s bigger things in mind for the Wildcats, who want to improve on last year’s third-place finish at the state tournament.
“We just move forward from this, improve each day and hopefully we can take it to districts and state,” she said.