KEARNEY – Some things just never seem to change.
Take the Northwest volleyball team for example.
After cruising to victory in the first set, Northwest was challenged by No. 9 Aurora in the next two sets, but prevailed 25-10, 25-22, 25-22 Thursday at Kearney High School.
The victory puts the No. 2-ranked Vikings into the state tournament for the 12th straight year and 21st time overall.
“This never gets old,” Northwest coach Diane Rouzee said. “It’s always exciting to take a team to the state tournament. I really can’t to see what this team can do next week.”
McKenzie Brown, who led Northwest with 13 kills, said getting back to the state tournament is an awesome feeling.
“You don’t ever want to be the team that breaks that streak,” Brown said. “We believed in each other from the very beginning and we knew we can be all we can be if we work very hard.”
Northwest did almost everything right in the first set. The Vikings had only two hitting errors and one service error, while getting kills from six different people in the opener.
Viking libero Niki Broich, who had 24 digs, served a 6-0 run that gave Northest a 15-5 lead.
Aurora coach Lois Hixson said experience was a factor for the Huskies in the first set. They had two seniors playing on the court, while the other eight that play are underclassmen.
“Northwest did a lot of great things that made it tough for us in that first set, but I felt our youngsters got a little nervous,” Hixson said. “A lot of them were on the bench last year. I thought the kids came back strong after that.”
Trailing 20-13 late, Aurora freshmen Kiley Hixson, Lois’ daughter, had a kill and an ace block during a 4-0 run to help cut the deficit to 20-17.
Down 24-18, Aurora scored the next four points on a Alexis Schneider ace block, a Viking error and Kiley Hixson’s two kills. However, Northwest grabbed the second set on a Kennadi Keezer kill.
The third set was a battle. Taylor Thiele did everything she could to keep Aurora in the match, pounding down six of her team-high 13 kills. Her final one tied the score at 22-all.
But back-to-back kills by Katie Placke and Brown put the Vikings at match point. Northwest claimed the district title after a Thiele spike went long.
Rouzee said there were times late in the third set when she thought about using a timeout when Aurora tied it up, but she never did. She also said Brown, a junior whose a three-year starter, did more on the floor than just coming up with key kills.
“I have so much confidence in these kids,” Rouzee said. “I put them in situations like this all the time in practice where we are down near to the end of a set. They really push to get through during those practices and they did the same thing tonight.
“With McKenzie being our most experienced player, I thought she did a great job leading our team and helped some of the other kids during tough moments in the match.”
Coach Hixson said it was disappointing to end the season in the district final but felt the Huskies still had a great season.
“I wish we could have pulled out because I think we are one of the top teams in the state,” coach Hixson said. “They deserve to be there (at state), but I’m proud of what the kids did this season. Our two seniors (Emily Braun and Rachel Miller) did a great job of leading our team this year.”
While many of the Vikings have experience in playing in the state tournament, one will get to feel the atmosphere for the first time. Scottsbluff transfer Morgan Westphal will experience her first state tournament.
“Words can’t even describe what we as a team have together,” Westphal said. “There’s not a better feeling than going to state with this team. This is so great.”
Brown said she can’t wait for the state tournament to get here, especially with the support she knows Northwest will get with it being in Grand Island.
“It’s going to be tough sleeping the next few nights,” she said. “Our band, students section, our parents and fans come out and support us all the time. They help us get going and that just gives you butterflies when you have that kind of support.”
Unofficially, Northwest should be the No. 1 seed and will draw York, which upset No. 10 Seward 25-23, 10-25, 30-28, 25-22, at 11 a.m. at Grand Island Senior High. Official pairings will be released Saturday.
Aurora (23-11) .............................10 22 22
Northwest (32-2) .......................25 25 25
AURORA (Kills-aces-blocks) – Ashley Richters 0-0-0, Taylor Thiele 13-0-0, Maggie Grosshans 0-0-0, Rachel Miller 0-0-0, Kiley Hixson 8-1-3, Emily Braun 0-0-0, Alexis Schneider 1-0-2, Allison Penner 1-0-3, Logan Ohlson 1-1-0 , Ashtyne Nachtigal 1-0-1.
NORTHWEST (Kills-aces-blocks) – Erin Sorahan 6-0-0, Katie Placke 5-1-0, Morgan Mallory 0-0-0, Kaley Werner 6-0-2, Morgan Westphal 5-0-1, Angelica Carlini 0-0-0, Neleigh Hall 0-1-0, Nicole Broich 0-1-0, McKenzie Brown 13-0-0, Kennadi Keezer 6-0-4.
ASSISTS – A: Penner 24 Schneider 1. NW: Hall 16, Placke 15, Westphal 3, Sorahan 1.