Last November, Norfolk rivals Lutheran High Northeast and Norfolk Catholic shined in the statewide spotlight as the two played one another for the Class C2 state championship with Lutheran High winning 3 sets to 2.
On Saturday, five members of those two teams lined up on the same side of the net and led the charge as the Light team defeated the Dark team in four sets, 25-23, 25-12, 27-25, 25-19 in the Northeast Nebraska All-Star volleyball match at Northeast Community College's Cox Activities Center.
Despite her team's offensive prowess, winning coach Cami Oelsligle of Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family said the Lights' defense made the biggest difference. "We had quite a few passers, and we could get a serve-receive started off pretty well and then our setters helped to feed our hitters the ball," she said.
Lutheran High outside hitter Becca Gebhardt finished the match with 17 kills, two blocks and a service ace while Norfolk Catholic middle Mary Fennessy provided 16 kills, four blocks and two aces.
"It's a lot more fun this way, not having to hit around Mary's block," Gebhardt said. "It's a lot funner to celebrate with her when she gets those blocks and kills."
Fennessy agreed that it was more fun to play with Gebhardt than against her. "Just because I don't have to worry about getting my block up fast and she's very cool-headed and keeps everything nice and calm and keeps everybody on their toes."
In a unique twist, one of Gebhardt's Lutheran High teammates, Halle Berner, played libero for the Dark team and Gebhardt joked that Berner's ability to dig up balls affected her stat line. "A lot of times I swung that I thought would usually be a kill and then I was 'Oh, I swung it to Halle, so, of course, that's not going to be a kill.' "
The two sides were tied at four in the first set before the Lights took off on a 7-2 run. Crofton's Kaley Einrem spiked an overdig for an 11-6 lead.
The Darks made a game out of it with a 5-0 run that turned the score from 23-17 to 23-22 when Clarkson/Leigh's Cassidy Hoffman scored with a block.
Another Einrem kill put the Lights up 24-22. Battle Creek's BriAnna Zohner answered with a kill to pull the Dark within one again, but a service error gave the Light team the first set, 25-23.
The second set was all Light team as Fennessy and Gebhardt heated up, combining for eight kills and two blocks while Norfolk Catholic's Carly Marshall reeled off three straight service aces in the 25-12 thumping.
Fennessy said it didn't matter that the match was an exhibition. "We're normally competitive people. It's not like a gold or state-championship medal on the line, so it was just a lot more fun to be in the moment playing the game."
As expected, the Dark team was much more competitive in set number three.
The Light team jumped on top early, with Gebhardt's service ace making it 9-5. But the Darks fought back as Chambers/Wheeler Central's Morgan Ramsey tied it at 17 off the assist from Clarkson/Leigh's Bailey Lemburg.
The Dark team then reeled off three more consecutive points. Another Ramsey kill made the score 20-17.
The teams then traded the next four points. Ramsey's CWC teammate, Rachel Dierks, made it 22-19 with a kill off the assist of West Point-Beemer's Reece Snodgrass.
But the Light team answered by scoring five of the next six. Oakland-Craig's Josie Richards tied it at 23 and a Dark team attack error gave the Lights a set point at 24-23.
The Darks fought back and took the lead by scoring the next two points. Hoffman's kill made it 25-24. Then Fennessy and Gebhardt combined for a block to tie it at 25, Richards scored with another kill off the assist from Marshall, and Ponca's Josie Reid ended it with a kill off a Richards assist.
"We worked hard," Clarkson/Leigh and Dark team coach Becky Schneider said. "We just made too many mistakes. Our passing was a little off, serving was off, and they picked up a lot of junk and got it back over, and that was the difference right there."
Despite the fact that the Light team won the first three sets, a special rule implemented for the match called for a minimum of four sets to be played, giving the Darks one final chance to salvage a win.
They fought hard. A block by Battle Creek's Renee Brummels tied the score at 12. But the Lights scored eight of the next 10 points. A Fennessy kill made it 20-14.
Clarkson/Leigh's Kayden Schumacher pulled the Darks within 22-18 when she put away an overdig, but that's as close as they could get. A kill by Lutheran High Northeast's Chloe Spence made it 24-18, and a Dark Team service error two points later brought an end to the set and match.
Oelsligle said it was a fun couple of days working with a dozen outstanding athletes. "The pure athletic talent that they have and then their willingness to be a good teammate, and then just play where we needed them to play; it's been super fun.”
Despite the loss, Ramsey was happy to have had the experience.
"It was an opportunity to play with some people that we've played against and finally be on teams together. I think we gave a lot of effort on a lot of things. I just don't think the ball bounced our way today, and that's OK. It was just fun."
Gebhardt seconded the fun aspect. "We didn't take it too seriously, but we still played a lot of intense volleyball. The coaches were a lot of fun, and just to work with different people who you usually play against was the best thing."
LIGHT TEAM DEF. DARK TEAM 25-23, 25-12, 27-25, 25-19
DARK TEAM: Zoey Lehmkuhl, Pender, 3k, 11s; Brenna Wagner, Summerland, 2k, 1a, 1b; Reece Snodgrass, West Point-Beemer, 1k, 14s, 1a; BriAnna Zohner, Battle Creek, 2k, 1a; Morgan Ramsey, CWC, 12k, 1a, 3b; Kayden Schumacher, Clarkson/Leigh, 5k, 2a; Rachel Dierks, CWC, 7k, 1b; Renee Brummels, Battle Creek, 3k, 3b; Bailey Lemburg, Clarkson/Leigh 2s, 1a; Cassidy Hoffman, Clarkson/Leigh, 5k, 2b; Halle Berner, Lutheran High Northeast, 3s.
LIGHT TEAM: Chloe Spence, Lutheran High Northeast, 1k, 12s; Kaley Einrem, Crofton, 6k, 1s; Carly Marshall, Norfolk Catholic, 1k, 18s; Josie Reid, Ponca, 6k, 1s; Mary Fennessy, Norfolk Catholic 16k, 2a, 4b; Josie Richards, Oakland-Craig, 5k, 9s, 1a; Becca Gebhardt, Lutheran High Northeast, 17k, 1a, 2b; Ashley Ostrand, Pender, 4s, 1a, 1b; Lauren Pick, Wayne, 7k.