All six defending state champions managed to return to the state volleyball tournament that begins Thursday at four sites in Grand Island.
Leading the way is Class A Papillion-La Vista South, which has been ranked in the top three nationally all season by two websites. The Titans (38-1) will seek to pull down their third consecutive Class A crown as the three Nebraska recruits — Kadie and Amber Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter — compete at the varsity level for the final time.
Papio South's opening match will be against crosstown rival Papillion-La Vista at 9 a.m. at the Heartland Event Center. The Monarchs snagged the lone Class A wild card after losing to Millard North in a district final.
Defending Class B champion Lincoln Pius X also returns to state, though the Thunderbolts won't get a chance to defend that B title. They moved up to Class A this year and will open at 2 p.m. against Lincoln Southeast.
Columbus Scotus, which has more state titles (15) than any other school, will be back to defend in Class C-1. The Shamrocks have a tough opening match at 2 p.m. at Grand Island High School against perennial rival Grand Island Central Catholic.
Defending C-2 champion Norfolk Lutheran will bring a 28-5 record into its opener against Freeman at 11 a.m. at Grand Island Northwest. The Eagles swept Wisner-Pilger in the district final and, like the Class A Titans, will go to state seeking their third consecutive title.
Class D-2 champion Howells, in its first co-op year with Dodge, moves up to D-1 this year. The former Bobcats (Howells) and Pirates (Dodge) are now known as the Jaguars and will play Exeter-Milligan in a 9 a.m. match at Grand Island Central Catholic.
Humphrey, the defending D-1 champ, is competing in D-2 this year. The Bulldogs, who will open against Mullen at 8:30 p.m. at GICC, captured state last year in their first-ever tournament appearance.
Of those six defending champions, only Class A Papio South will head to state as a No. 1 seed. The other top seeds are Grand Island Northwest (B), Kearney Catholic (C-1), North Platte St. Pat's (C-2), West Point GACC (D-1) and Mead (D-2).
Kearney Catholic also holds the distinction of being the only undefeated team left in the state. The Stars (33-0) are out to make amends after finishing as the C-1 runners-up the past two years.
After Thursday's 24-match first round, semifinals will be played Friday at the Heartland Event Center and Grand Island High. All six finals Saturday will be at the Event Center, with the six consolation matches being split between Grand Island High and Grand Island Northwest.
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Nebraska state tournament pairings
First-round matches Thursday
Class A at Heartland Center, Grand Island
>> Papio South (38-1) vs. Papillion-LV (22-16), 9 a.m.
>> Millard West (28-5) vs. Lincoln SW (25-7), 11 a.m.
>> Lincoln SE (27-8) vs. Lincoln Pius X (27-11), 2 p.m.
>> Om. Marian (36-4) vs. Millard North (27-14), 4 p.m.
Class B at Grand Island High School
>> Elkhorn South (25-7) vs. Waverly (27-6), 9 a.m.
>> Grand Island NW (32-2) vs. York (15-14), 11 a.m.
At Heartland Center
>> Sidney (25-6) vs. Norris (23-5), 6:30 p.m.
>> Gretna (24-8) vs. Omaha Gross (30-5), 8:30 p.m.
Class C-1 at Grand Island High School
>> Columbus Scotus (23-3) vs. Grand Island CC (23-10), 2 p.m.
>> Chadron (27-3) vs. Ogallala (27-10), 4 p.m.
>> Norfolk Catholic (28-2) vs. Lincoln Christian (26-4), 6:30 p.m.
>> Kearney Catholic (33-0) vs. Lincoln Lutheran (20-14), 8:30 p.m.
Class C-2 at Grand Island Northwest
>> North Platte St. Pat's (29-1) vs. Hershey (17-10), 9 a.m.
>> Freeman (25-6) vs. Norfolk Lutheran (28-5), 11 a.m.
>> Thayer Central (22-7) vs. Hastings St. Cecilia (29-3), 2 p.m.
>> Hartington Cedar Catholic (28-5) vs. Wood River (25-7), 4 p.m.
Class D-1 at Grand Island Central Catholic
>> Howells-Dodge (28-3) vs. Exeter-Milligan (27-4), 9 a.m.
>> Sutherland (24-6) vs. Alma (23-8), 11 a.m.
At Grand Island Northwest
>> O'Neill St. Mary's (30-2) vs. Ansley-Litchfield (29-2), 6:30 p.m.
>> West Point GACC (28-4) vs. Silver Lake (23-7), 8:30 p.m.
Class D-2 at Grand Island Central Catholic
>> Mead (26-4) at Brady (23-7), 2 p.m.
>> Leyton (30-1) at Cedar Valley (24-6), 4 p.m.
>> Giltner (28-2) vs. Stuart (22-7), 6:30 p.m.
>> Mullen (22-9) vs. Humphrey (30-2), 8:30 p.m.