Norfolk Catholic and Lutheran High Northeast will play for the third time this year, on Tuesday, after both took care of business with semifinal sweeps in the C2-7 subdistrict on Monday at the Norfolk Catholic Activities Center.
Lutheran High swept Tilden Elkhorn Valley, 25-17, 25-20, 25-18, before Norfolk Catholic struggled but survived in straight sets over Fullerton, 25-23, 25-21, 25-15.
The results set up a rematch of last year's Class C2 state championship match and also the 2020 subdistrict final, both won by Lutheran High.
There is, however, one big difference between this year and last. In 2020, both teams knew a loss would not end their seasons as both were assured of wild cards. This year, both would have outside chances at wild cards — Norfolk Catholic's would be a little better than Lutheran High's — but there are no guarantees for either team.
In the first semifinal on Monday, Lutheran High and Elkhorn Valley squared off in a rematch of a contest played nine days earlier as part of Lutheran High's Eagle Classic. Although the result was the same, with the Eagles winning in straight sets, Lutheran High coach Kathy Gebhardt said it was a different Falcon team on the other side of the net.
"They definitely played well over there," Gebhardt said. "We, at times, weren't executing the way we want to and need to, but there's a lot of jitters when you get into the postseason, so hopefully, we got some of those out tonight."
Lutheran High led the first set 24-16 when the Eagles' Lauren Buhrman and the Falcons' Kennedy Penne were involved in a joust at the net. Penne won the point and the Lutheran High fans took a collective deep breath when Buhrman lay on the floor in pain.
"I think the other girl's foot came across and landed on my ankle," Buhrman said. "And then my ankle twisted, I think. I heard a pop."
After being treated for a couple of minutes, Buhrman was helped off the floor and replaced by Hannah Fouts, who on the next point recorded a perfect block to give the Eagles the set and a 1-0 lead.
Lutheran High fans were relieved when Buhrman took the floor, again, to begin the second set.
"There was some pain, but I took some medicine and it felt a little better," Buhrman said.
The Eagles opened a big lead in the second. Amber Bockelman's ace serve made the score 9-1.
It was one of Bockelman's four aces on the night. "The first thing is try and get an ace but ultimately, just get it over and and get it in," Bockelman said.
But the Falcons wouldn't quit and cut the Eagle lead to 17-14 after a Carney Black service ace.
Lutheran High responded with a 5-3 run. Mia Furst scored all five Eagle points with three kills and two blocks. The Eagles then went on to win the second set, 25-20.
While the second set was mostly one-sided, the third was anything but. With eight ties and four lead changes up to 11-all, it looked like anyone's ball game.
But an 8-1 Lutheran High run created the separation the Eagles needed to close it out.
Another Bockelman service ace ended the set and match at 25-18.
Furst filled up the stat sheet for Lutheran High with 20 kills and four blocks. Buhrman finished with 20 set assists while Bockelman delivered four ace serves.
Brooke Wilcox's 10 kills paced Elkhorn Valley while Bria Gale had two service aces and Black, 22 assists.
"It's very hard realizing it is the last game," Black said. "We definitely, as seniors, left it all on the floor, and I'm very proud of that."
Falcon coach Emily Vaughn said the seven seniors on the roster had left their mark on Elkhorn Valley. "Bouncing back into Class C, doing well in the conference, bringing energy every day to practice, there's somebody in this whole class, athletically and academically, that a lot of kids can look up to."
NORFOLK CATHOLIC had a little more trouble putting away Fullerton and did so in straight sets. But the first two — especially the second — were up for grabs.
Sisters Jordan and McKenna Plumbtree, both at 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and the daughters of Fullerton coach Megan Plumbtree, gave Norfolk Catholic fits both offensively and on the block.
"They've got some really good hitters that can put the ball down if you don't get touches on them," Norfolk Catholic coach Michaela Bellar said.
The Knights jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first set. The Warriors responded by scratching and clawing their way back into it and pulled to within one on four occasions — 14-13, 15-14, 16-15 and 17-16 — but could not get over the hump.
Norfolk Catholic created separation with a 4-1 run. Allison Brungardt's kill made the score 21-17. Later on, another Brungardt kill gave the Knights set point at 24-19.
But the Warriors made Norfolk Catholic sweat with a 4-0 run. Teagan Gonzior, the Fullerton setter, recorded one of her four kills by faking a set and dumping the ball to the other side of the net to make the score 24-23. But a service error into the net ended it with the Knights winning 25-23.
Fullerton led the second set early. A Norfolk Catholic attack error made the score 6-3. But a Warrior service error triggered a 5-0 run for the Knights.
Fullerton did manage to tie it up at 17 on another Norfolk Catholic attack error and at 18 with Jordan Plumbtree's block. But, once again, the Warriors couldn't get over the hump and Norfolk Catholic closed with a 7-3 run. Addison Corr's kill ended it at 25-21.
"I thought we did a good job of playing defense, but we gave them too many free balls and they're able to put those free balls down when they want to," Bellar said.
The third set was all Norfolk Catholic. The Knights never trailed and led by as many 12 before settling for a 10-point win. Brungardt ended it with a tip kill, 25-15.
"I think in the third set, we decided like, 'Let's end this, let's get momentum for tomorrow and let's get going,' " Brungardt said.
"We did a good job of staying aggressive even when we got blocked, and that's something I've been preaching over the course of the year," Bellar said. "We're going to get blocked. It's how we rebound from it, and I think our girls did a pretty good job of staying aggressive that whole game."
Brungardt finished the match with 13 kills for Norfolk Catholic while Avery Yosten added 11. Saylor Fischer led the Knights with 27 set assists and two ace serves.
McKenna Plumbtree's 14 kills and three blocks were tops for the Warriors while Gonsior dished out 20 assists.
Norfolk Catholic and Lutheran High will play for the third time this year on Tuesday. The Knights won both of the other two meetings, three sets to one on Sept. 7 at Lutheran High and two sets to none as part of a triangular on Sept. 28 at Crofton.
"We know who they are, they know who we are. We'll be ready," Bockelman said.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST DEF. ELKHORN VALLEY 25-17, 25-20, 25-18
ELKHORN VALLEY (21-9): Johannah Tassemeyer 2k; Carney Black 1k, 22s; Kennedy Penne 3k; Kenzie Mosel 8k, 1s, 1a; Merinee Vaughn 1b; Aneesa Halsey 4k; Brooke Wilcox 10k, 1s, 1b; Bri Gale 2a.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (17-13): Faith Baumgartel 1s; Avery Koeppe 1k, 1s, 1b; Kealy Ranslem 10s, 1a; Kendra Petersen 12k, 3a; Mia Furst 20k, 4b; Lauren Buhrman 1k, 20s, 1a, 2b; Mia Wiederin 1k; Alyssa Marotz 1k, 1b; Hannah Fouts 1b; Amber Bockelman 2s, 4a.
NORFOLK CATHOLIC DEF. FULLERTON 25-23, 25-21, 25-15
FULLERTON (15-8): Tori Engel 1a; Teagan Gonsior 4k, 20s, 1a 1b; McKenzie Supik 5s; Isabel Norman 2k; Jordan Plumbtree 10k, 1s; Lainie Ziemba 2k, 1a; McKenna Plumbtree 14k, 3b;
NORFOLK CATHOLIC (20-10): Jacey Wolf 2s; Kenzie Janssen 2s; Saylor Fischer 27s, 2a; Addison Corr 7k; Allison Brungardt 13k; Avery Yosten 11k, 2s, 1b; Letizia Fumagalli 1k, 1a; Tiffani Peitz 4k, 1a, 1b; Morgan Miller 2k, 1s.