GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Central Nebraska is a special place for the Norfolk Lutheran volleyball team.
Since the state tournament moved to Grand Island in 2010, the Eagles haven't missed a Class C2 state volleyball championship game.
The Eagles beat North Platte St. Patrick's 25-16, 17-25, 25-19, 25-16 in a semifinal match Friday morning at Grand Island High School.
One of Norfolk Lutheran's biggest challenges was defending 6-foot-3 middle hitter Brittany Lawrence.
“Our strategy coming in was to put up a triple block up against No. 11 (Brittany Lawrence) and see if we could stop here a little bit,” Norfolk Lutheran coach Kathy Gebhardt said. “She was still ready to swing hard.”
After dropping the second set Norfolk Lutheran swung the momentum in its favor.
Tied at 8 in the third set, the Eagles scored four out of the next five points. They took a 12-9 lead on a Morgan Sunderman kill. North Platte St. Patrick's later pulled within 15-14 before Norfolk Lutheran went on a 4-0 run. A kill by Sunderman capped the third-set win.
Norfolk Lutheran continued its domination in the fourth set. Megan Gebhardt recorded back-to-back ace serves as the Eagles jumped to a 9-2 lead. The Eagles lead would be no fewer than five points the rest of the way.
Morgan Uhlir's 13th kill completed the win for the Eagles.
“Our big emphasis was when No. 11 (Lawrence) was out of there, we really had to score points on our side,” coach Gebhardt said. “That was kind of our focus and we were able to keep that going.”
The Eagles jumped to a 10-4 first-set lead with a Uhlir kill. Norfolk Lutheran extended its lead to 17-8 when Jessie Masters connected on an ace serve.
North Platte St. Patrick's cut its deficit to 22-16 late, but the Eagles scored the final three points — the last on Kelsey Sunderman kill.
The Irish evened the match in set two. Norfolk Lutheran took a 6-5 lead with a block by Jessie Masters. After Masters' block, the Irish went on an 11-1 tear. Brittany Lawrence capped the run with a kill.
Norfolk Lutheran later pulled within 20-15 on a Jessica Masters kill. The Irish scored five out of the final seven points of the set, the last of which came on a Lawrence kill.
“Norfolk Lutheran Northeast is a great team who is very athletic,” North Platte St. Patrick's coach Shelly Byrn said. “In the second game, we ran a faster offense against them and it worked. But they made adjustments and it obviously worked well for them.”
Morgan Sunderman finished with 16 kills for Norfolk Lutheran (30-5). Uhlir fired 14 kills, while Masters finished with four blocks and two ace serves. Gebhardt finished with 34 set assists, five kills, five blocks and two ace serves. Mandi Uecker finished with 10 set assists and 17 digs.
Megan Gebhardt had 32 set assists and two ace serves.
Lawrence knocked down 19 kills for North Platte St. Patrick's. Shelby Allberry had 14 kills, while Brook Boucher handed out 41 set assists.
The Irish finish the season at 30-2.
“We have not faced as big of block as they put up this year and it flustered our hitters,” Byrn said.
Norfolk Lutheran (30-5) was scheduled to play Hartington Cedar Catholic in the championship match at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Heartland Events Center.
“We've said all along these girls are following the seniors and wanted their chance to get out there and show what they can do,” coach Gebhardt said. “They have proven that they will step up and give it their best. I'm very proud of the way they have been playing in this tournament. They girls definitely earned the win today.”
Norfolk Lutheran (30-5) .......................... 25 17 25 25
North Platte St. Patrick's (30-2) ................. 16 25 19 16
NL (kills-aces-blocks): Mandi Uecker 6-1-1, Megan Gebhardt 5-2-5, Morgan Sunderman 16-0-5, Hannah Knapp 1-0-0, Kelsey Sunderman 3-0-0, Arianna Rathke 0-0-0, Morgan Uhlir 14-0-0, Jessie Masters 5-2-4.
NPSP: Brook Boucher 5-0-2, Breelyn Saner 6-0-1, Shelby Allberry 14-2-3, Jenna Torres 2-0-0, Brittany Lawrence 19-0-3, Samantha Byrn 7-0-1.