LINCOLN - Lutheran High Northeast fought back from two sets down to defeat Norfolk Catholic in the Class C2 state championship match 19-25, 25-27, 25-19, 25-18, 15-4 on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The five-set thriller was a fitting tribute to volleyball in Norfolk and Northeast Nebraska as the teams spent all afternoon making great plays on both sides of the net.
"I'm just extremely proud of the girls; they just played amazing," Lutheran High coach Kathy Gebhardt said. "We were getting a little frustrated in the first two sets and, after that second set, we regained our composure and went out there, and these girls just willed it and made it happen."
This was the fourth match between the Norfolk parochial schools this season. Lutheran High had won the previous three, but in the early going Saturday, Norfolk Catholic looked like the better team.
"I thought our girls did a great job coming out in the first two sets and then we just played not to lose and any time you do that, you're going to lose," Norfolk Catholic coach Michaela Bellar said.
Lutheran High led the first set early. A Lauren Buhrman kill had the Eagles on top 9-3. But the Knights' Channatee Robles heated up offensively. Her kill gave the Knights a 14-13 lead.
Later on, a Becca Gebhardt ace serve put the Eagles up 18-16 before Norfolk Catholic closed out the set on a 9-1 run that included three Addison Corr kills.
The second set was one of the best you'll ever see at this level and included an incredible 20 ties and 11 lead changes.
Becca Gebhardt's kill to give Lutheran High a set point at 24-22 was the first time either team led by more than one point.
Mary Fennessy answered with a block to pull Catholic within 24-23, and a Lutheran attack error tied it at 24.
Another Gebhardt kill made it 25-24 Lutheran High before Norfolk Catholic answered with a 3-0 run. Avery Yosten's block ended it, 27-25.
It was the only three-point run in the entire set and put the Knights up 2-0 in the best of five.
"We were really frustrated with their block, but we knew they had a big block, so we just said, 'Let's forget about these first two sets,' " Becca Gebhardt said. "We know what we know about them and let's just regroup. We have each others' backs, so let's just sweep them in these next three."
Lutheran High played the match without starting middle Aubrey Herbolsheimer, who suffered a sprained ankle late in the semifinal win over Clarkson/Leigh.
"We weren't going to use that as an excuse, but we had to put in a freshman (Kendra Peterson) who is not even really a true middle," Kathy Gebhardt said. "She's an outside, that's where she normally practices, but she knows she's our backup middle if we need her."
Bellar admitted the Knights were aware of the 6-footer's absence. "We tried taking advantage of it," she said. "I think we kind of went away from it in the third set, and I think that kind of hurt us in the end."
Once the third set began, Lutheran High looked like a new team. The Eagles led 11-7 before creating breathing room with a 5-1 run. Grace Bitney's block had Lutheran High on top 16-8.
The Eagles never led by fewer than five points the rest of the way to take the set 25-19. Of the 44 points scored by both teams, only eight were the result of errors.
"We were setting up on their hitters on the block a lot better and pushing over so they weren't able to use our hands on as much," Lutheran High's Chloe Spence said. "It really changed the game."
The fourth set started with a series of sideouts. If you recorded the match, check out the point with Lutheran High leading 8-7. It lasted for well over a minute as both teams made spectacular plays to keep the ball alive. A Buhrman kill finally gave the Eagles a two-point lead.
Lutheran High later gained separation with a 4-0 run. A Gebhardt kill gave the Eagles a 13-8 advantage.
Norfolk Catholic answered with a 5-3 run. Fennessy's kill made the score 16-13. But that's as close as the Knights could get before an error gave Lutheran High the winning margin at 25-18.
"These girls don't like to lose, and they weren't going to give it away," coach Gebhardt said. "This was their championship that they wanted and worked so hard for for so many years. So, they just got mentally tough and went after it."
The fifth set was all Lutheran High. The Eagles dominated and produced sideouts each time the Knights scored.
Fittingly, Becca Gebhardt's 31st kill was the last of her stellar high school career and gave the Eagles the set and the match, 15-4.
"We started off and just got it rolling," coach Gebhardt said. "I was a little surprised, myself, but the girls were just on fire. They were in the groove. I don't know that we've really been in our groove down here until the end of the match today."
Bellar said that after the second set, Lutheran High became the aggressor. "We kind of switched roles and we kept tipping and they kept feeding it right back at us," she said. "They kept swinging and we didn't do a great job of pressing throughout the last three sets but props to Lutheran High; they were the better team."
Norfolk Catholic finished the year with a record of 25-8 while Lutheran High Northeast closed out the 2020 state championship campaign with 36 wins and 1 loss.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST DEFEATS NORFOLK CATHOLIC 19-25, 25-27, 25-19, 25-18, 15-4
NORFOLK CATHOLIC (25-8): Anna Neuhalfen 1s, 18d; Carly Marshall 42s, 12d; Mary Fennessy 13k, 1s, 8d, 2b; Addison Corr 10k, 3a, 23d; Allison Brungardt 8d; Avery Yosten 6k, 7d; Taylor Kautz 16d; Channatee Robles 19k, 1s, 2a, 27d.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (36-1): Chloe Spence 10k, 24s, 21d; Maddie Becker 1k, 26s, 1a, 17d; Kendra Peterson 2k, 2d; Amber Bockelman 2s, 24d; Grace Bitney 5k, 1s; Mia Furst 8k, 2s, 1a, 4d, 1b; Lauren Buhrman 12k, 6d, 1b; Becca Gebhardt 31k, 1s, 3a, 24d; Halle Berner 8s, 40d.