GRAND ISLAND — Exeter-Milligan is headed back to the D-1 state volleyball finals — a position they are in for the fourth consecutive year after downing Sutherland 25-23, 20-25, 25-21 and 25-13 in a semifinal match at Grand Island Senior High on Friday.
After finishing as champions in 2009 and '10, and runner-up in 2011, the Lady Timberwolves will match up against West Point GACC in a 6:30 p.m. final at the Heartland Event Center on Friday.
Sutherland will face St. Mary's at GIHS in a 10 a.m. third-place match.
Exeter-Milligan coach Darcy White had mixed emotions if past state tournament experience helped her team.
“I think it does make a difference,” White said. “But I don't know how much it does when it comes right down to it, because any team that comes to the state tournament wants it just as bad as the other.”
“I felt that we had a rough day yesterday morning so we made a couple of changes — not too many. I had some people step up tonight.
“We had some great plays yesterday and we had some great plays today out of different people so I am proud of how they performed.
We talked about [the experience], but not until right before the fourth set.”
The first set was tight throughout with 16 ties, the last coming at 22 as Sutherland's Samantha Kennedy put down a kill.
The Lady Timberwolves' Jaclyn Luzum came back with back-to-back kills, two of her 20 in the match, to give Exeter-Milligan match point. A Lady Timberwolves hitting error gave the serve back to Sutherland, but a Sutheland service error gave Exeter-Milligan the one-set advantage.
“I think we were a little nervous going out there today, but we bounced back from that pretty well,” said Sutherland coach Valerie Kershner. “I think we played aggressively overall.
“We struggled a bit at times but I think we were able to, for the most part, play the game that we needed to play, with exception in the last set.”
The Lady Sailors came back to take set two on an eight-kill performance by Kennedy. The senior middle hitter had four kills in the final five points to help tie the match at a set apiece. Kennedy's 20 match kills on the day were high for both squads.
“We kept it out of the middle and they still were able to set up Kennedy,” White said. “I told the girls, 'Can we please stop her, can we please put a block on that girl?'
“She's an awesome player. She was still getting her hits from the outside.
“I moved my setter to the outside and I tried to put Jaclyn on her to slow her down a little bit. Great hitters find a way to score and that's what she did. When she's in the front row you have to key on her.”
Exeter-Milligan jumped out to an 11-5 lead in set three. Malinda Hall started the run with a pair of blocks and contributed a kill. Taylor Erdkamp added back-to-back service aces and Luzum had two kills.
Sutherland crawled back into the match, tying the set at 21 on a Haley Baxter kill. But Exeter-Milligan scored the final four points to go up 2-1 in the match.
The fourth and final set was anticlimactic as the Lady Timberwolves again put together another early run of which Sutherland could not recover.
Erica Yound had three successive service aces in a nine-point run that put her team up 10-1 and the Lady Timberwolves finished with a 25-13 advantage.
Sutherland (25-6) ................. 23 25 21 13
Exeter-Milligan (28-5) ................. 25 20 25 25
S (kills-aces-blocks): Joli Hopping 2-1-1, Kaley Stokey 0-1-0, Kelsey Dillenburg 6-0-0, Samantha Kennedy 25-0-5, Kristen Nelson 0-2-1, Jalyne Schuster 7-0-0, Haley Baxter 3-2-1.
EM: Madison Horne 0-1-0, Amber Pribyl 3-0-3, Malinda Hall 7-0-2, Taylor Erdkamp 2-2-1, Jaclyn Luzum 20-1-2, Erica Yound 1-1-0, Kylie Briske 0-2-0, Megan Zwickl 12-0-0, Jennifer Pribyl 4-0-4.
Set assists: 32 (Hopping 32, Kennedy 1, Baxter 3; E-M 46 (Horne 2, Hall 6, Erdkamp 34, Luzum 3, Zwickl 1).