GRAND ISLAND - It looked like it was going to be a short night for Cross County in the Class D-1, District 2 final at Grand Island Central Catholic.
The Cougars made 12 unforced errors and got pounded in the opening set against Silver Lake. Cross County, playing in its first district final in six years, made it interesting, but in the end Silver Lake clinched a berth in next week’s state tournament with a 25-10, 15-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-10 victory.
“We saw them earlier in the year,” Silver Lake coach Stacie Heldt said. “We knew they had improved a lot, so we knew we were going to have to play a lot better than we did.
“The first set I thought we came out really ready to play and focused. I kind of think we thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be easy,’ and maybe lost a little bit of focus, and Cross County played a lot better in the second and third sets.”
Cross County coach Erica Twarling said her players were a bit nervous for the opening set, but recovered nicely after that.
“I think the girls loosened up a little bit, started talking more, and realized they could do this,” Twarling said. “We had our backs to the wall Tuesday night (in a five-set subdistrict final win over Palmer) too so our mental toughness showed in the second and third set.”
The Cougars (11-20) got 18 kills from Brooke Anderson. Michelle Klein added 10 kills for Cross County.
The Cougars dominated the middle part of the match against the Mustangs (23-7). They took a 2-1 lead by pulling away a bit toward the end of the third set.
But the Mustangs responded well, just like they have responded well all year long.
“I told them between the third and fourth sets, ‘Your backs are against the line,’” Heldt said. “We’ve played well all season long with our backs against the line. The main thing is you just have to relax a little bit and stop being tentative.
“I said, ‘Everybody has made a mistake by now. Just go out and play your game’, and that’s what they did.”
Senior outside hitters Mackenzie Skupa and Meghan Rockefeller carried the load for Silver Lake with six kills each in the fourth set. Skupa finished the night with 22 kills and Rockefeller 21.
The key run in the fifth set came when Skupa went to the service line with the score tied at 8. The Mustangs, helped out by a couple of Cross County errors, scored three in a row for an 11-8 lead.
Cross County tried to get back into it, but two kills by Rockefeller later upped the lead to 14-11, and the match ended on a Cougar hitting error.
“I was very happy with the effort,” Twarling said. “We have a lot of girls who haven’t played a lot of varsity until this year and they battled. We had a tough game Tuesday against Palmer (in a five-set win). Our record doesn’t really indicate how good we are. We play in a tough conference and have really jelled in the last month.”
Twarling said the Cougars will miss all five seniors, especially Brooke Anderson who had a school-record 28 kills in the victory over Palmer on Tuesday.
“She’s had a very good year,” Twarling said. “We’re going to miss her next year. I have a nice group coming back. My outside Michelle Klein, my middle Taylor Nienhueser, my setter Morgan Mickey and my other setter Kelsey Anderson. It was good experience for those girls.”
Cross County (11-20) ........................10 25 25 10
Silver Lake (23-7) ..............................25 15 20 25 15
CROSS COUNTY (Kills-aces-blocks) — Morgan Mickey 5-0-0, Kelsey Ansderson 3-0-1, Michelle Klein 10-3-0, Taylor Nienhueser 4-2-1, Laura Branting 4-4-0, Brooke Anderson 18-4-2, Megan Pallas 0-0-1, Christina Dubas 0-0-0.
SILVER LAKE (Kills-aces-blocks) — Alissa Ehrman 0-0-0, Sydney Parr 0-3-1, Meghan Rockefeller 21-2-0, Kila Timm 1-0-0, Mackenzie Skupa 22-0-1, Sydney Meyer 4-1-2, Joslyn Grabill 0-0-0, Josie Parr 1-1-0.
Set assists — Cross County: K. Anderson 17, Mickey 15. Silver Lake: Timm 29, S. Parr 15.