The Norfolk High volleyball team seemed to have early-season momentum with a four-match winning streak coming into Tuesday's action against Heartland Athletic Conference foe Lincoln Southeast.
But the visiting Knights seemed to have all the momentum almost the entire match. The Panthers never led once in suffering a 25-14, 25-22, 25-14 sweep that dropped Norfolk to 4-3 on the young season.
Despite the setback, there were still positives to take out of the match for the Panthers.
“We talked to them about their improvement in the second set and that we can continue to work hard and become a better team,” Norfolk coach Katie Wright-Oswald said.
Norfolk struggled in two key areas — Southeast's diverse yet focused attack, and in stretches with its own passing. The assist and kill numbers indicated those two factors were connected.
Kira Kalnins had 23 assists, and Taylor Little added 11 in the Knights' 6-2 system. Junior outside hitter Brittany Wulf was the primary beneficiary on the attack with a match-high 14 kills, while middle hitters Grace Nichols and Alexis Gates added five each, and four more Knights had three kills each. Gates also walled off a match-high four solo blocks.
“We spend a chunk of practice each week on just serving tough, trying to get everybody out-of-system,” Southeast coach Paige Hubl said. “Another emphasis is serve and pass. If we win that game, the chances of us winning the set is high.”
Norfolk had just 13 assists as a team, all by senior setter Anden Baumann, who was also second on the team with five kills. Karly Kalin and Erin Schwanebeck paced the Panthers with six spikes, while the rest of the team combined for two kills.
But Wright-Oswald said the numbers didn't show how hard Baumann and the Panthers had to work for what they earned.
“Anden has to hustle her butt off … but for us, it just means that, in one timeout, I told the team that this is a game where you have to take some risks,” the coach said. “I told them you better risk it for the biscuit, and you better go.”
Wulf's night was also, at least partially, a product of outproducing her scouting report.
“She looked a heck of a lot better on the court out here than she did on film,” Wright-Oswald said. “I thought she was a phenomenal player.”
Norfolk started with senior Jordyn Schommer lined up against Wulf, with freshman Tessa Gall also in the front row, before tweaking its lineup in game two by going with sophomore Ali Sovereign instead of Schommer opposite Wulf.
“On someone like that, you just bear down, and when you get a big dig, you make sure you capitalize and turn it back,” Wright-Oswald said.
Early on, the passing game struggled for Norfolk. Southeast scored a 19-8 lead in game one while committing just one total error in that stretch. At that point, the Panthers were charted with six total errors.
“Errors, errors, errors in our passing game,” Wright-Oswald said. “We have specific plays that we want to run that we practice that we're confident in, and we can't run those when our serve-receive is not there.”
Norfolk appeared to have a big chance to take the momentum in game two, turning a 23-17 deficit into a one-point game after five straight Southeast errors. But Norfolk hit long on the next play, and a Nichols kill finished it for the Knights.
In the third, the Panthers pulled to within 12-10 on a Gall block, and within 14-11 following Baumann's fifth kill of the night, but the Knights tallied an 8-0 run that all but sealed the final result.
“I hope the girls really continue to improve throughout the season,” Wright-Oswald said.
Under Hubl, a former Nebraska player, Southeast improved to 7-3, but also 4-0 in non-tournament matches.
“We're putting a huge emphasis this year on ball control, being in-system and executing when we are,” Hubl said. “I feel like, if we're executing at 90% in-system, we're going to be fine.”
Lincoln Southeast defeats Norfolk
25-14, 25-22, 25-14
LINCOLN SOUTHEAST (7-3): Delaney Whitaker 3k; Sophie Kroeker 3k; Tiffany Wulf 3k; Taylor Little 11s; Brittany Wulf 1a, 14k; Kaela White 3k; Grace Nichols 5k, 1b; Sadie Emmett 3a; Kira Kalnins 1a, 23s; Alexis Gates 5k, 4b.
NORFOLK (4-3): Jaci Driscoll 1a; Tessa Gall 1k, 2b; Ali Sovereign 1k, 1b; Karly Kalin 6k; Erin Schwanebeck 1a, 6k; Anden Baumann 1a, 13s, 5k.