GRAND ISLAND — One team celebrates, and one team waits.
In a battle of Class C-2 powerhouses, Hastings St. Cecilia emerged victorious over Wood River as the Hawkettes captured the Class C-2, District 5 tournament title Friday night at Grand Island Senior High.
St. Cecilia (25-3) swept the Eagles 25-22, 25-13, 25-13 with a multifaceted offensive attack that seemingly came at Wood River from all angles.
The victory guarantees the Hawkettes a slot in next week’s state tournament in Grand Island. Wood River still has a chance to earn a bid as a wild card.
“We’re sitting pretty well for the wild card,” Wood River coach Peg Heise said. “We told the girls they needed to just relax and play. We needed to play at a high level tonight — sometimes we did, and sometimes we didn’t. St. Cecilia is a team with a lot of weapohs and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. That doesn’t mean they’re always clubbing the ball. They can attack you in a lot of ways.
“I thought we came out with a lot of momentum, and we competed hard for the points we got. We lost our focus a little. When you play a team like St. Cecilia, your offense has to be accurate. When we struggled tonight it was with our passing, even with some freeballs.”
The Hawkettes were able to generate early leads in all three sets and force Wood River (25-7) to play catch-up all night long. St. Cecilia was efficient enough that the Eagles held the lead only once all night, as they went on top briefly at 6-5 in the third set. St. Cecilia coach Alan VanCura said his team did an excellent job of capitalizing on that scoreboard advantage.
“Whenever you’re playing from behind it takes some of your aggression away,” he said. “You’re trying not to make mistakes. You can play a lot differently when you have a four or five point lead.”
Wood River stayed just within reach of St. Cecilia for the entire first set, but was never able to close the gap. St. Cecilia asserted itself at the net, with Morgan Nikkila and Olivia Thomas leading the way with 11 kills each for the match. The Hawkettes generated a 16-11 lead, then moved to 21-15 after an Eagle hitting error and a kill by Nikkila. Hope Lambrecht countered with a kill for Wood River, then stepped to the line.
Wood River got the next three points, two off kills by Alexis Burghardt, and then an ace by Lambrecht got Wood River within one at 21-10. But a dunk from Clare Hamburger broke serve and Josie Prevette outduelled Kelsey Bahe at the net to push the lead bck to three. Wood River again responded with Bahe getting a dunk and Kelly Boshart following with a kill to again make it a one-point lead, but a kill by Thomas and an Eagle hitting error on set point allowed St. Cecilia to take the first set.
Both the second and third sets saw the Hawkettes put together bigger runs at the service line. In the second Courtney McCauley ran off four early points, including two off Eagle miscues, followed by a six-point burst from Arika Kitten. Prevette picked up two kills during this run, while Kitten notched two aces. Leading 19-10, St. Cecilia saw Thomas deliver kills on three of the next six points as she was able to consistently hit through the Eagle block. At set point, Nikkila delivered the kill to close things out at 25-13.
The Eagles opened the third valiantly, with Lambrecht delivering back to back ace blocks and than a kill to give Wood River its only lead. But an Eagle was called for net contact, and Kitten got a kill and a block to give St. Cecilia some breathing room. After trading sideouts, Nikkila came to the line and delivered a nine-point barrage that saw Kitten pick up three more kills. The Eagles were unable to mount a rally, and Nikkila once again delivered the final kill to advance the Hawkettes to the next round of the playoffs.
“They’re never easy when you get to this level,” VanCura said. “Wood River is a good team, and I think they have an excellent chance of going to State. I thought our district was the toughest one in C2, and hopefully that’s prepared us for next week.
“Although we haven’t talked about it, we have some unfinished business. We let a game slip away from us in last year’s semis, and that’s been a motivator throughout the season. It’s not an easy road, but hopefully we’ll compete well next week.”
Wood River ........... 22 13 13
Hastings St. Cecilia ............... 25 25 25
Scoring — WR, Lambrecht 6 (1 Ace), Boshart 5, Burghardt 3 (1 Ace), Bahe 2 (1 ace), Hermann 2. HSC, McCauley 11 (2 aces), Hamburger 9, Nikkilia 9, Kitten 8 (2 aces), Jackson 5, Schropp 3 (1 ace). Kills — WR, Lambrecht 9, Burghardt 5, Boshart 4, Bahe 3. HSC, Nikkila 11, Thomas 11, Kitten 7, Prevette 6, McCauley 5, Hamburger 3. Ace Blocks — WR, Lambrecht 2, Boshart 1. HSC, Prevette 3, Kitten 2, Thomas 1.