Four losses in six matches provided a fork in the road type of moment for Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family.
The Bulldogs were replacing a large senior class from last season and made a move up to Class C2 — in addition to being part of annually one of the toughest volleyball conference in the state, the East Husker.
Things could have spiraled downhill quickly.
But they didn’t. Instead, the Bulldogs went in a much different direction.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family reeled off eight straight wins since that tough stretch to improve to 14-4 and jump two spots in this week’s Class C ratings to No. 5.
“These girls are resilient,” coach Cami Oelsligle said. “They are really good about that next play and not letting an error bother them. In volleyball, for a point to be scored, an error has to happen or someone makes a really great play. When they made some errors in years past, we struggled to come out of those ruts.
“This year it doesn’t matter if we’re down by 10 or 15, we’re going to fight and we’re going to fight back. A lot of times it has proven to work out for us.”
Only three letter winners returned from last year’s 20-10 squad, but this group jelled rather quickly.
“I think that’s a strength with this team over some teams in the past — there is strong chemistry here,” Oelsligle said. “They are so good at the next play because their teammates are encouraging them like, ‘Hey, you’ve got it. Remember that time before where you had that excellent play?’
“They are really good about building each other up instead of tearing each other down. In volleyball, sometimes that can be hard. I think that is pivotal.”
The losing stretch was tough, but it was against top quality teams. That included defeats to three teams ranked ahead of them in Class C — No. 1 North Bend Central, No. 3 Oakland-Craig and No. 4 Clarkson/Leigh — along with a 16-2 Sutton squad.
But it was still a mentally challenging span of eight days.
“That’s a tough time in there because the girls got down on themselves a bit like, ‘Shoot, maybe we aren’t that strong,’ ” Oelsligle said. “Now this win streak here and knocking off teams like Cross County and Summerland has built our confidence. I’m excited to see what we can do this postseason.”
The win over Cross County especially was a big boost. It came in the championship match of that opponent’s home tournament, and it was the first loss of the season for the Cougars, who are now 14-2.
“It was a long day because for both of us it was our fourth game of the day,” Oelsligle said. “We were tired, but we told the girls that if we come out and don’t play tired, they are going to remember how tired they are.
“That definitely helps things, and we came out with such a strong pace that we beat them in the first set by 10 points. They’re a really solid team, but I think we hardly had any errors and we outscrapped them.”
Junior Ali Brandl leads the Bulldogs with 2.3 kills per set. She is followed by sophomore Alexis Groteluschen (2.0) and senior Alisha Dahlberg (1.5).
Senior Mollie Groteluschen tops the team with 38 blocks while junior Addison Groene has 204 digs. Abilyn Schneider tops the Bulldogs in set assists (353) and aces (20).
More challenges lie ahead. That includes the East Husker Conference tournament, with six teams among the eight rated in Class C this week.
“Every year, it’s going to be tough,” Oelsligle said. “There’s a chance we could have 15 wins or more going into conference (tournament) play and be seeded as a six or seven seed. That’s crazy to me.”
With a challenging subdistrict that includes Clarkson/Leigh, Wisner-Pilger, Lutheran High Northeast and Stanton, the Bulldogs are looking to continue to pick up key wins and improve their standings in wild-card points.
“I told the girls right now we’re flirting with top 10 in C2 in power points,” Oelsligle said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated that because of the class jump. We believed we were going to be a strong team, but we were thinking D1.”
The challenges continue on Saturday during a loaded Clarkson/Leigh invitational. The Bulldogs are joined by three other teams in this week’s area ratings (the hosts, Howells-Dodge and Wynot) along with Cross County.
But Oelsligle said she feels her group is ready for whatever challenges arrive the rest of the season.
“I’m just proud of them because they work hard, they trust us and they buy in to what we want to do,” she said. “That chemistry makes a difference in volleyball. This has hands down been one of the more fun seasons I’ve had as a coach, and that’s a testament to the girls.”
North Bend Central is now one of three undefeated teams remaining in the state. The Tigers (20-0) have swept their past five matches but face a major challenge on Thursday with a trip to Malcolm (19-1).
No. 2 Pierce went 5-0 over the past week and swept a pair of rated teams in Wisner-Pilger and Humphrey St. Francis.
No. 3 Oakland-Craig made the most of a busy stretch, picking up seven wins in a span of six days. The Knights won 15 out of 16 sets during that span.
No. 4 Clarkson/Leigh saw a six-match winning streak snapped with a 3-1 loss to Archbishop Bergan (18-3), but the Patriots will have a chance to regain some momentum when they host their loaded invitational on Saturday.
Following Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family’s jump up to No. 5 is Wisner-Pilger, which re-enters at No. 6 after a one-week absence. Five of the Gators’ six losses are to the top three rated teams, and a sweep of Crofton and a 2-1 win over Summerland moved them back into the ratings.
No. 7 Crofton falls back two spots after losses to Wisner-Pilger and Norfolk Catholic.
No. 8 Summerland also slides back two places after a stretch of four losses in five matches, although all of those defeats were to rated teams and two were by one set.
No. 1 Norfolk Catholic saw a streak of five straight sweeps come to a close with a 2-1 win over Lutheran High Northeast, but the Knights are still the top of the class with a 14-1 record and 11 consecutive wins heading into Saturday’s Columbus Classic.
No. 2 Humphrey St. Francis isn’t docked for a 2-0 loss to Class C No. 2 Pierce in the championship of the Madison Classic.
Howells-Dodge has now won 16 in a row since an opening-night loss to Class C No. 3 Oakland-Craig. The Jaguars will put that streak to the test in Saturday’s Clarkson/Leigh invite.
No. 4 Hartington Cedar Catholic has won seven in a row and 12 out of 13. But the Trojans hit a stretch of five straight matches against opponents with winning records, and three of them are rated.
No. 5 Elgin Public/Pope John is one of those future opponents for Cedar Catholic. The Wolfpack moves up one spot after going 4-1 over the past week with the loss coming to Nebraska Christian (19-4).
Wynot also moves up a place despite losing two of three. Those setbacks came against Class C2 teams Wakefield and Ponca, and the Blue Devils are 7-0 against Class D1 and D2 competition.
Stuart caused the minor shakeup in the bottom half of the ratings by sweeping previous No. 5 O’Neill St. Mary’s. The Broncos have won four in a row. Five of their six losses are to Class C1 or C2 teams, with the only exception coming in a 2-1 loss to Elgin Public/Pope John.
St. Mary’s drops three spots behind Stuart with a 13-2 record. The Cardinals can earn their way back up on Tuesday with a home triangular against Humphrey St. Francis and Elgin Public/Pope John.