GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Nobody ever said winning a state volleyball championship is easy.
And nobody knows that better than Grand Island Northwest coach Diane Rouzee, whose Vikings had finished as the Class B runner-up the past five years.
That frustrating streak came to an end in dramatic fashion Saturday as Northwest outlasted Gretna 25-22, 29-31, 25-20, 11-25, 16-14 in the tournament final at the Heartland Events Center. The clinching point triggered a huge ovation from the hometown fans and elicited an emotional group hug between Rouzee and her assistants.
“Is this real?” she said. “It's not very often that I'm at a loss for words, but this is one of those times.”
The momentum swung back and forth throughout the marathon match between the team trying to end that runner-up string and the team playing for its first title. Gretna showed no sign of nerves against the Vikings and pushed the match to the limit for coach Mike Brandon.
“I've got to give them a lot of credit,” Rouzee said. “They're the best team that we've played this season.”
After the teams split the first four sets, it all came down to the 15-point fifth.
Neither team got more than two points ahead in that set, though Northwest managed to keep the upper hand most of the way. Gretna led at 5-4 and didn't reclaim the lead until a kill by Natalie Mickelson made it 13-12.
A kill by Katie Placke of Northwest tied it and another by McKenzie Brown put the Vikings on the verge of victory. A kill by Gretna's Rian Kirby tied it, but another kill by Placke once again put Northwest one point from the win.
That final point came on a block by 5-foot-9 senior Morgan Westphal, a transfer from Scottsbluff High. The Vikings players fell to the court and hugged in triumph while the Dragons could only stand and watch.
“It's such an amazing feeling to win this title,” Westphal said. “We wanted this for coach and for all the girls that didn't get it.”
Brown, a three-year starter for the Vikings, said it took a team effort to defeat Gretna.
“I've been waiting three long years for this,” she said. “We all had to pull together. And that fifth set was a nail-biter.”
The Vikings won the first set on an ace by senior Kaley Werner, which led to the marathon second set. It was tied at every point from 22 to 29 before the Dragons finally put it away on a pair of kills by freshman Halie McArdle.
“To be able to win that set was huge,” Brandon said. “If they go up 2-0, it might have been a different match.”
Northwest regrouped to win the third set 25-20 but the Dragons dominated the fourth set, winning 25-11. That set the stage for the decisive fifth set.
The Vikings used a balanced attack to secure the win. Brown led the way with 13 kills, followed by Westphal and Placke with 12 each and Werner with 11.
Placke had 32 assists while Neleigh Hall had 23.
The Dragons also put up big offensive numbers. McArdle had a match-high 21 kills, followed by Mickelson with 18, Madison Sutton with 13 and Rian Kirby and Sara Rahmanzai with nine each.
Setter Chandelle Davidson had 64 assists.
After the match, an emotional Rouzee wanted to make sure reporters got one thing straight.
“Please put down that we won state,” she said. “And that we're not the runner-up this year.”
Gretna (26-9)..............................................22 31 20 25 14
Grand Island Northwest (35-2)...........................25 29 25 11 16
G (kills-aces-blocks): Chandelle Davidson 0-1-2, Madison Sutton 13-0-2, Paige Young 0-3-0, Natalie Mickelson 18-0-0, Rian Kirby 9-0-4, Zoe Otteman 0-3-0, Sara Rahmanzai 9-0-4, Halie McArdle 21-1-0.
GINW: Erin Sorahan 11-0-0, Katie Placke 12-1-5, Kaley Werner 11-4-2, Morgan Westphal 12-0-3, Nicole Broich 0-1-0, McKenzie Brown 13-0-0, Kennadi Keezer 4-0-3.
Set assists: G 66 (Davidson 64, Mickelson 1, Otteman 1), GINW 57 (Placke 32, Neleigh Hall 23, Westphal 1, McKenzie Brown 1).
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