Going on the theory that a loss teaches you something, Omaha Marian coach Rochelle Rohlfs said she did a lot of learning this season.
The longtime coach fielded one of her youngest teams, and some might have considered it a rebuilding year. But the Crusaders were playing their best volleyball in the final two weeks and were rewarded with the school’s fifth state championship.
“I did more mental coaching this year than ever,” she said. “We were young, we had injuries, we had illness, but somehow we still got it done.”
Marian’s late-season march to the Class A title elevates the Crusaders to the top spot in the Top 10. Rohlfs’ squad edged several other contending teams for that position, but Marian’s performance at state — especially its gritty five-set win against Millard West in the final — was enough to lift the Crusaders to No. 1.
Rohlfs said the turning point for her 33-11 squad came Oct. 24 in a five-set loss against Millard North. It was the third straight setback for Marian, and the coach said it was time for a heart-to-heart with her team.
“I told them we could be content with losing the close ones and chalk it up to our inexperience,” she said, “or we could work harder and get our season turned around.”
The team chose the latter approach, winning 10 of its last 11. That lone loss was an embarrassing sweep against Millard West in the Metro Conference tournament final, but again Marian learned from it.
“There were a lot of regrets after that match,” Rohlfs said. “We needed the mentality that we had to fight back.”
The Crusaders did just that in the state final, battling back from a two-set deficit to capture the title.
Rohlfs said each of her team’s 11 losses — the most for Marian since going 31-11 in 2005 — played an important role in the Crusaders’ late success.
“I hated losing,” the coach said. “But our schedule helped us get better because every loss taught us a lot about how we needed to improve.”
Marian also could be poised for a nice run in the future, with many of its key players returning. Rohlfs’ primary task will be finding a setter to replace senior Sydney O’Shaughnessy, who will move on to the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
When asked about it after Saturday’s final, the coach deflected any talk of future success.
“To say that we’ll do that would disrespect a lot of other very good teams,” she said. “We know that it will be tough again next year and that we’ll need to work even harder as the defending champion.”
Marian’s upset of previous No. 1 Millard West was just one of the surprises at the state tournament. The biggest came in the Class B semifinals when Norris knocked off previously unbeaten Grand Island Northwest, snapping the Vikings’ 65-match winning streak.
The sixth-seeded Titans, coached by Christina Boesiger, went on to defeat another surprise team — eighth-seeded Elkhorn South — in the final. It was the second state title for Norris and the school’s first since 1991.
Not sure I can remember a squad going on such a magical tournament run as the Titans. Norris won a first-round match against Waverly by rallying from a 9-1 deficit in the fifth set (that just does not happen), and followed with the upset of Northwest and the championship win over the Storm.
Congratulations to Rohlfs, Boesiger and the other four championship coaches — Kris Conner of Kearney Catholic (Class C-1), Alan VanCura of Hastings St. Cecilia (C-2), Nicole Renshaw of O’Neill St. Mary’s (D-1) and Kurt Polt of Giltner (D-2).
The state tournament now has completed its run at Grand Island and will return to Lincoln next year. The new Pinnacle Bank Arena and remodeled Devaney Center will be the primary venues, which should provide added incentive for next year’s teams with dreams of state.
Thanks to the officials at Grand Island, who did a very nice job of hosting the tourney. Workers were helpful and friendly, and their first-class performance raised the bar for future tournaments.
It’s been an interesting season, capped by an unpredictable state tournament. Now it’s on to basketball, with the first games being played Dec. 5. That will be here before we know it.
Only two: The rash of tourney upsets led to the correct prediction of just two winners, St. Cecilia and St. Mary’s. Perhaps I can get a little extra credit for selecting Norris as the sleeper team in Class B.
Good sports: Six schools earned the annual state tournament sportsmanship awards from the Nebraska Coaches Association. They were Marian (Class A), Grand Island Northwest (B), Ogallala (C-1), St. Cecilia (C-2), Cross County (D-1) and Stuart (D-2).
More good sports: The Ogallala pep band deserves mention for staying after the Indians’ first-round match Thursday to play for Chadron, which had no band. It helped that the schools share the same fight song.
Those band members also cheered for the Cardinals, who had few students at the game because of the travel distance and conflicting school activities.
In a related blog, Chadron principal Jerry Mack called it a true act of good sportsmanship and added that the Ogallala band “demonstrated how to win off the court.”
Attention, coaches: Volleyball coaches are asked to submit their All-Nebraska nomination sheets by Tuesday. Coaches of teams in Class A, Class B and the Omaha-area also are asked to submit final statistics, either to The World-Herald (email to email@example.com or fax to 402-444-1238) or submit them through the MaxPreps website.
Girls basketball coaches also need to return preview sheets this week in the same manner, either by email or fax.