When you walk into the St. Paul gym, you may notice there are six banners hanging from the rafters.

One of those banners includes the Wildcats’ fourth-place finish at the state volleyball tournament in 2008, which is their only volleyball banner.

St. Paul wants to add another volleyball banner this weekend when the Wildcats will compete at the state tournament for the fourth time in school history

The Class C-1, No. 5 Wildcats takes on No. 6 Syracuse at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln North Star.

St. Paul coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said the theme for this year has been “Banner Worthy.” That slogan is printed on the back of the St. Paul volleyball t-shirts. He said getting a banner raised has been one of the goals for the Wildcats.

“We go to a lot of other schools and we see their wall is covered with a lot of banners. Our girls want to get another one raised up in our gym,” Koehn-Fairbanks said.

“We’re on pace to do that. We wanted everything the girls did throughout the whole fall to be that way, whether it was every practice, every game, every offseason workout, and all that.”

While many of the Wildcats are anxious for the state tournament, Koehn-Fairbanks said Hayley Fox is one player that is definitely eager for state. The 6-1 senior was one of the contributors for St. Paul’s success in 2016 when they qualified for the state tournament, but she suffered an ACL injury during the district finals and couldn’t compete at the state tournament.

“I’m happy for all my kids but more for her because she was such a key player to our success the last time we went,” he said. “Then she suffers that injury and couldn’t play at all, that really hurt for her and for me as a coach. I’m excited that she will get this opportunity as are the rest of the players.”

The Wildcats has had a balanced attack this season as two players with other 200 kills as Fox leads the way with 489 kills and Brooke Poppert has chipped in 228, and Josie Jakubowski is four away from 200 as she has 196 kills.

Setters Grace Jerabek and Olivia Poppert have dished out 467 and 465 assists.

Libero Paige Lukasiewicz leads the defense with 554 digs as well as as 61 ace serves.

But St. Paul faces a Syracuse team that is also very balanced. Meredith Clark leads the Rocket attack with 281 kills and 36 blocks, while Jessica Moss has 262 kills and 276 digs and Lauren Meyer has 248 kills and 42 ace serves. Brooke Snyder has dished out 784 assists.

Koehn-Fairbanks said he feels the Rockets are in some ways like St. Paul is.

“They are very balanced, good serving and good defense,” he said. “I think they are not just a power team, I think they have nice balance in the front row and back row and that’s kind of what we are.”

While the Wildcats are focusing on Syracuse for the opening round, Koehn-Fairbanks said the C-1 field, which includes defending champion Wahoo and returning runner-up Grand Island Central Catholic, is about as strong as its ever been and feels any of the eight teams can win it.

“If you can get to the state tournament in C-1, then you are doing something right, especially with the new format of substate,” he said. “It usually shows who the top eight teams are in the state but that makes the state tournament even tougher once you get down and that’s the way it should be.

“I think C-1 is wide-open and it’s going to come down to whoever is playing the best match in those three days. Everyone has a great chance.”

Sports writer, mostly in volleyball, cross country, wrestling and track and field, for the Grand Island Independent for seven years.

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