Class C No. 1 Norfolk Catholic fought off two set points in the third set to sweep No. 4 Lutheran High Northeast, 25-21, 25-22, 26-24 on Tuesday at the Andrews Activity Center on the Lutheran High campus.
The athletes for both sides treated the crowd to an entertaining match that included at least a half-dozen long rallies. The sportsmanship displayed by the players, students and fans reflected great credit upon both of Norfolk's parochial schools.
Norfolk Catholic coach Michaela Bellar was all smiles afterward.
"Lutheran High is very scrappy and they did a great job of keeping everything alive," she said. "There were some times I didn't think we played our best volleyball, but that's OK, we don't want to be playing our best volleyball right now."
All three sets could have gone either way and reminded Lutheran High coach Kathy Gebhardt of her team's matches on Saturday with Wayne and Fremont Bergan, in which three of the sets ended in losses of 27-25. "Our defense does a pretty good job, it's just transitioning to offense and putting the ball away when we need to put the ball away," she said.
Lutheran High led the first set 6-4 when Norfolk Catholic went on a 5-0 run that included a pair of Abby Miller kills.
The Eagles followed that with a run of their own. Chloe Spence's tip kill tied it at 9.
But the Knights scored 10 of the next 12 points to take a 19-11 lead. Lutheran High made it interesting with three consecutive points near the end, to make it 24-21, but a service error gave the Knights the first set 25-21.
Norfolk Catholic controlled the second set in the early stages, jumping out to leads of 14-5 and 17-8. But the Eagles made the Knights sweat with a 5-0 run. Becca Gebhardt's kill pulled Lutheran High to within 18-15.
The Knights led 23-17 before the Eagles scored three points on Norfolk Catholic attack errors. A Lutheran High attack error made it 24-20.
The Eagles scored two more points — including a Kendra Rosberg kill — to make it 24-22 before Norfolk Catholic's Hayden Wolf put away the second set with a kill.
"Hayden's our go-to person," Bellar said. "She's our primary passer, so we lean on her for a lot."
The third set was the most entertaining of the night. Norfolk Catholic led 21-17 before Lutheran High went on a 5-0 run that included Aubrey Herbolsheimer's solo block and Gebhardt's kill and service ace.
Knight freshman Channatee Robles tied it at 22 with a kill off the block, but the Eagles' Lauren Buhrman followed with a kill and a win of a joust to give Lutheran High two set points at 24-22.
However, three Eagle attack errors gave the Knights a 25-24 lead, then Wolf and Fennessy combined on a block for the winning set and match point.
"Norfolk Catholic is a very good team," Kathy Gebhardt said, “but we were right there, we were playing good games, but we're not just finishing when we need to finish."
The Eagles played the match without injured middle Grace Bitney. Her teammate Becca Gebhardt played but was at less than 100 percent, although she still recorded a match-high 14 kills and earned the admiration of the opposing coach.
"Gebhardt is a great player," Bellar said. "She's fun to watch, and she's hard to block."
Norfolk Catholic showed good balance on the attack. Robles had 12 kills and two solo blocks. Wolf finished with 10 kills and a pair of blocks, while Fennessy had one of her best matches of the year with eight kills, four blocks and a service ace.
"Mary stepped up tonight," Bellar said. "It was awesome to see her, but what's nice about our team this year is it can be a different girl stepping up every night."
Lutheran High is back in action Thursday at the Wakefield Invitational. The Eagles have pool-play matches with Ponca and Laurel-Concord-Coleridge.
Norfolk Catholic also plays Thursday — on the road against defending Class C1 state champion Wahoo.
"That will be a fun game, that will be great test for us," Bellar said. "We're excited for that game."
Norfolk Catholic defeats Lutheran High Northeast 25-21, 25-22, 26-24
NORFOLK CATHOLIC (5-1): Mary Fennessy, 8k, 1a, 4b; Channatee Robles, 12k, 2b; Hayden Wolf, 10k, 2b; Abby Miller, 6k, 1b; Carly Marshall, 1k, 1a; Hannah Wilcox, 1k, 1b; Anna Neuhalfen, 1a.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (5-3): Becca Gebhardt, 14k, 1a; Aubrey Herbolsheimer, 4k, 2b; Chloe Spence, 2k; Kendra Rosberg 3k, 1b; Mia Furst, 1k, 1a; Amber Bockelman, 2k; Lauren Buhrman, 4k; Halle Berner, 1a.
k=kills, a=ace serves, b=solo blocks.