LINCOLN – Of the 279 high school volleyball teams in Nebraska, only 10 finished their seasons with wins. Count Lutheran High Northeast among those 10.
The Eagles rebounded from a disappointing performance in Friday's semifinal loss to Hastings St. Cecilia with a convincing victory on Saturday over second-seeded Superior 25-15, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 to earn third place in Class C2.
“We had one more chance to play together and show the people down here what our Lutheran High Lady Eagle volleyball team was really like,” coach Kathy Gebhardt said.
Eagle outside hitter Becca Gebhardt – Kathy's daughter – said the team wanted to put Friday's loss behind them. “That was a bad game, just focus on the next game and get things done today,” she said.
The match was played out of the spotlight at Lincoln East High School, but any suggestions that the teams didn't want to be there were put to rest from the first serve. Both schools had hundreds of supporters who cheered loudly and provided the big-game atmosphere both teams deserved.
For neutral observers, it was the last chance to see Superior's Kalynn Meyer in a high school uniform. The next time the 6-foot-3 middle hitter plays in a competitive match, she'll be wearing the scarlet and cream of the University of Nebraska.
“We said, 'Just don't focus on her; she'll make her mistakes just like we make mistakes,' ” Becca Gebhardt said, “just focus on our side.”
Entering the state tournament, Meyer and her younger sister, 6-foot sophomore Shayla, had combined to produce 840 of the Wildcats' kills. To put that in perspective, the rest of the Superior team had 114 combined.
The Meyers had intimidated many-a-foe in the Wildcats' 30 wins this season. But not Lutheran High.
“We wanted to key on the two big hitters and shut them down,” Eagle defensive specialist Amber Bockelman said.
The Eagles didn't completely shout down the Meyers – Kaylynn finished the match with 21 kills and Shayla 13 - but both received a healthy dose of the Lutheran High block.
Aubrey Herbolsheimer, Lauren Buhrman and Gebhardt frustrated the pair at the net and when they did get the ball past the block, the Eagle defense led by Bockelman and Halle Berner were there to clean it up.
“We told the girls, they're going to get some good swings and let's just put up a big block against them and dig as many as we can,” Kathy Gebhardt said. “I think our girls dug the ball amazingly. I was extremely proud of our defense”
Offensively, Becca Gebhardt led the Lutheran High charge with 25 kills as the Eagles finished the match with 48 kills to Superior's 39.
“I thought our hitters did a great job of hitting around their block for the most part,” Kathy Gebhardt said. “For as big as they are up at the net, we did not get our stuff blocked too many times.”
The first set was tied at 8 before Lutheran High went on a 10-1 run that included two Herbolsheimer-Buhrman double blocks, a pair of Gebhardt kills and service aces by Chloe Spence and Bockelman.
Superior cut the Eagle lead to 19-15 with a Kalynn Meyer kill off the block but Lutheran High responded with a 6-0 run to close the set, highlighted by a Spence kill, two Gebhardt kills and a Maddie Becker service ace.
The Eagles jumped out to an early lead in the second set. Lutheran High led 9-6 before a 4-0 run by the Wildcats. Later, with the score tied at 14, Superior began a 6-0 run that included two more Kalynn Meyer kills.
The Wildcats closed out the set with a 5-1 run to level the match at a set apiece.
Lutheran High responded in the third with six straight points that featured back-to-back plays in which the Eagles attacked Kalynn Meyer in the back row, resulting in overdigs and kills on the other side by Mia Furst.
Lutheran High led 8-3 at that point and the Wildcats were never able to get closer than a three-point margin the rest of the way.
While the Eagles enjoyed the lead for most of the third set, they had to battle from behind in the fourth. A Kalynn Meyer service ace had Superior out in front 14-11 and Shayla Meyer's kill off the block had the Wildcats on top 16-13.
That's when Lutheran High turned the tide. Gebhardt's kill made it 16-14 and triggered an 8-0 run that included kills by Spence and Buhrman as well as a Gebhardt service ace.
Shayla Meyer's kill ended the run with the Eagles up 21-17. Superior followed by scoring four of the next five points. Kalynn Meyer's last kill as a high school player cut Lutheran High's lead to 22-20.
Herbolsheimer then followed with a perfectly-placed tip for a three-point lead, an Eagle attack error cut it 23-21 before a Grace Bitney tip kill and Gebhardt rocket closed out the set and match.
Even though the bulk of the Eagle team will return in 2020, Gebhardt said she'll always have a special place in her heart for the 2019 team. “Just how far we came from the end of August to now, I just think we've made incredible strides,” she said.
“Overall, a lot of individuals just got better, tougher mentally, and we had some big wins along the way but I think these two wins here at state were just awesome.”
Class C2 third-place match
LHNE defeats SUP 25-15, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21
Luheran High Northeast (31-7): Chloe Spence 5k, 1a, 13d, 26s; Maddie Becker 2a, 8d, 8s; Kendra Rosberg 1k, 1b; Grace Bitney 3k, 2d; Mia Furst 5k, 2a, 5d; Lauren Buhrman 2k; Becca Gebhardt 25k, 1b, 1a, 18d; Aubrey Herbolsheimer 7k, 1b, 5d; Amber Bockelman 1a, 16d; Halle Berner 25d, 7s.
Superior (30-4): Cailyn Barry 1d, 1s; Alexa Cox 1k, 4s; Shayla Meyer 13k, 3b, 1a, 21d; Sierra Blackburn 1b, 4a, 10d, 23s; Trisha Hayes 1a, 15d; Zaveah Kobza 2k, 1b, 10d; Emma Schnakenberg 2k, 1b, 3d; Kalynn Meyer 21k, 1b, 1a, 10s; Emma Henderson 12d.