GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Longtime Omaha Marian volleyball coach Rochelle Rohlfs is usually a pretty reserved person.
But Rohlfs couldn't contain her excitement Saturday after watching her young squad rally from a two-set deficit to defeat top-ranked Millard West for the Class A state volleyball championship.
After junior Kelsey O'Connell put down the final kill, Rohlfs' clipboard and papers went flying into the air. It was a fitting end to a tense five-set match that was packed with emotion from the start.
“I was kind of excited,” Rohlfs said. “And I was really excited for my girls.”
The Crusaders, who lost 11 matches during the regular season, capped their tournament run with a 22-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-12 win at the Heartland Events Center. Marian avenged two regular-season losses against Millard West and pulled down its fifth state title while denying the Wildcats their first.
Rohlfs said despite dropping the first two sets, she remained optimistic.
“It's been my experience that a team sometimes relaxes a little after winning the first two,” she said. “Our team kept playing hard and I could feel the momentum turning.”
Millard West won those first two sets that seesawed back and forth, with neither team leading by more than three points. That put the Wildcats in great shape to finish off their best season ever, but the Crusaders had other ideas.
The comeback started in the third set when Marian took the lead for good at 20-19 on a kill by Anna Krettek. The Crusaders refused to give up that lead and won the set on a kill by Kelsey O'Connell.
Much like the previous three tight sets, the lead in the fourth bounced back and forth until Marian went on a 7-0 run to turn a 13-13 tie into a 20-13 advantage. The Wildcats fought back and drew within 24-23 on a kill by Cassidy Loberg, but a block by Elizabeth Loschen gave the set to the Crusaders and forced a decisive fifth set.
Marian led that final set 6-4 and 7-5 before the Wildcats rallied to grab a 10-8 advantage, prompting Rohlfs to call a timeout. Despite that deficit, Marian senior Sydney O'Shaughnessy said she liked what she saw when she returned to the volleyball floor.
“I looked across the net and I could see how stressed they looked,” she said. “And when I looked at our team, I just didn't sense any panic at all.”
Marian eventually got it tied again at 12 when a Millard West shot went wide and then took the lead for good on a kill by O'Shaughnessy. After a Wildcats timeout, a pair of O'Connell kills right in the middle of the Wildcats' defense ended the match and led to Rohlfs' clipboard toss.
“We knew we had lost to them twice, but we knew we could beat them when it counted,” O'Connell said. “After all of our hard work this year, it's hard to describe how great this feels.”
It was a crushing loss for the Wildcats, the top-ranked team in Class A much of the season.
“I'm heartbroken for our seniors,” Millard West coach Erin Byrd said. “But this is the way you want the Class A final to be played. It was a great match, but very stressful.”
O'Connell led the Crusaders with 22 kills while Hannah Mueller added 18 and Loschen 15. Sophomore Lauren Gamm had nine kills while O'Shaughnessy, a University of Nebraska at Omaha recruit, had 60 assists.
Alexis Anderson led the Wildcats (36-3) with 20 kills.
“We showed a lot of heart to win this title,” Rohlfs said. “I'm just really proud of my team.”
Om. Marian (33-11)......................22 23 25 25 15
Millard West (36-3)......................25 25 21 23 12
OM (kills-aces-blocks): Brittany Witt 0-1-0, Sydney O'Shaughnessy 5-0-1, Lauren Gamm 9-0-1, Sophia Terwilleger 1-0-0, Anna Krettek 2-2-1, Hannah Mueller 18-0-1, Elizabeth Loschen 15-1-5, Kelsey O'Connell 22-0-1.
MW: Kamesha Young 5-2-1, Alexis Anderson 20-0-4, Cassidy Loberg 7-0-4, Kira Shapiro 9-1-3, Erin Sosnowchik 12-0-2, Tiffany Wentworth 0-0-1.
Set assists: OM 62 (O'Shaughnessy 60, Andrea Hanus 1, Witt 1); MW 48 (Wentworth 48).