GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — So much for this being a rebuilding season for Omaha Marian.
Despite having just four seniors on its roster and suffering through growing pains that led to 11 regular-season losses, the Crusaders on Friday earned a return trip to the Class A state final with a 25-18, 25-16, 27-25 victory over Lincoln Southeast in the semifinals at the Heartland Events Center.
Just as coach Rochelle Rohlfs said she had hoped, No. 6-rated Omaha Marian (32-11) is playing its best volleyball of the season when it matters most. Following a three-match losing streak in October, the Crusaders have won nine of 10.
“Our passing was solid and our hitting attack was just so balanced,” said Rohlfs, who also celebrated her birthday Friday. “We’re not a one-woman show right now. All our hitters are firing, and when you have a good setter who can distribute the ball, it kind of keeps the other team’s block and defense off-balance.”
Elizabeth Marie Loschen’s 15 kills, Kelsey O’Connell’s 10 kills and Sydney O’Shaughnessy’s 39 assists led Omaha Marian’s attack. Brittany Witt had 18 digs and Andrea Hanus added 12 for the Crusaders.
Unlike Thursday’s 3-1 first-round win over Lincoln Southwest on Thursday, Marian didn’t have any major lapses against No. 8 Lincoln Southeast (31-9). After the Knights took a 24-22 third-set lead, the Crusaders closed with a 5-1 run with Lauren Gamm getting three kills in that stretch.
“They said going into (set) three, ‘Let’s not have a repeat of yesterday,’ and they said, ‘It’s time not to take a big mental break,’ ” Rohlfs said. “They knew Southeast was going to come back and give it everything they had with their last rally, so that’s why I think this was such a big mental test for them.”
The Crusaders, who finished as the Class A state runners-up last season, will be making their 10th state finals appearance and are shooting for their first volleyball state title since 2009. Marian’s finals opponent is No. 1-rated Millard West (36-2) in a 1 p.m. match at the Heartland Events Center.
Omaha Marian is 0-2 against Millard West this season, losing to the Wildcats 3-2 Oct. 22 and 3-0 Oct. 31 in the finals of the Metro Conference tournament.
“I feel we play better about the third or fourth time we play a team,” Rohlfs said. “These kids are all getting really good at following a game plan.”
Meagen Roth had 15 kills to lead Lincoln Southeast, while Kylee Wurster finished with 25 assists. The Knights will play Papillion-La Vista (27-11) in Saturday’s 10 a.m. third-place match at Grand Island Northwest.
Southeast and Marian had split four previous meetings this season.
“Unfortunately, I think we let our nerves get the best of us in those first couple of sets,” Knights coach Annie Rice-Healey said.
Lincoln Southeast (31-9) .......................................... 18 16 25
Omaha Marian (32-11) .......................................... 25 25 27
LS (kills-aces-blocks): Karsin Underwood 0-0-0, Emma McKillip 3-0-0, Elizabeth Saale 0-0-0, Carly Sheppard 0-1-0, Brooke Lattimer 1-0-3, Jensen Trauernicht 1-0-1, Kylee Wurster 2-1-0, Megan Roth 15-0-0, Tyra Douglas 7-0-0. Totals 29-2-4.
OM: Andrea Hanus 0-1-0, Brittany Witt 0-2-0, Sydney O'Shaughnessy 1-0-3, Lauren Gamm 8-0-0, Sophia Terwilleger 0-0-0, Anna Kretteck 2-1-1, Hannah Mueller 8-0-0, Maren McGuire 0-0-0, Morgan Lubeck 0-0-0, Elizabeth Marie Loschen 15-1-2, Kelsey O'Connell 10-0-2. Totals 44-5-8.
Assists: LS 27 (Wurster 25, Sheppard 2); OM 41 (O'Shaughnessy 39, Witt 2).