LINCOLN — No. 7-seeded Battle Creek looked to be in prime position to take a set against undefeated and second-seeded St. Paul with a 22-20 lead in the second.
But the Wildcats scored five of the final six points of the set and never trailed the rest of the way in ending the Bravettes’ season 25-17, 25-23, 25-17 in the Class C1 quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at Lincoln North Star High School.
It was Battle Creek’s second straight season that ended in the opening round in Lincoln.
“We came down here with the expectation that we would win that match, so it’s disappointing right now,” Bravette coach Cody Wintz said. “We just got done talking about that in the locker room, about how big of a step this program has taken the last couple of years to get down here two times in a row.”
Outside of the first point, Battle Creek never led in set two until a four-point swing gave the Bravettes a 21-19 advantage. Senior Tria McLean landed a kill, then turned around and delivered a service ace. McLean then set junior BriAnna Zohner up for a kill to pull Battle Creek within 18-17. McLean then found classmate Riley Seifert for a spike to start the 4-0 lead-changing spurt. Senior Madaline Taake took advantage of a McLean pass to tie the set and force St. Paul’s first timeout of the match at 19.
The McLean to Seifert connection came true twice more, with Seifert’s spikes giving Battle Creek a 21-19 lead, then after a service error, Seifert slammed another winner for a 22-20 advantage.
“Our passing was a lot better at that point,” Wintz said. “Our serve-receive struggled in the first set and part of the second set, and we got that cleaned up and the girls got some confidence at the end of that second set.”
Jenna Jakubowski started the rally for St. Paul with a kill, and then Battle Creek’s return of a free ball sailed long for an error to tie it again. An ace serve by junior Camryn Morgan coming out of a timeout gave the Wildcats a 23-22 lead, but Seifert set up Zohner for a tying kill at 23. But the Wildcats got a tip call at the net, and a Josie Jakubowski service ace ended the set.
“Yeah, we did have momentum going there, but St. Paul did a great job of fighting there,” Wintz said. “They did a great job all three sets, to be honest with you.”
Set three was all St. Paul, which allowed Battle Creek within a point just twice after an early 4-1 lead. Two kills by McLean put the Bravettes within 15-13, but an 8-2 run put the Wildcats in the driver’s seat for advancing to the semifinals.
“In the second set, our offense finally got involved, and in the third set, I thought our defense played really, really well to keep them from scoring,” St. Paul coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said.
St. Paul’s balanced offense proved to be too much for Battle Creek. Four Wildcats finished with at least five kills each, led by 5-foot-8 junior Josie Jakubowski, who had a double-double with 12 kills and 11 digs. Senior Brooke Poppert finished with nine kills, junior Teegan Hansel added eight and freshman Jenna Jakubowski tallied five. Sophomore Olivia Poppert also had a double-double with 34 set assists and 12 digs.
“I was so proud of our kids. We still have a young team,” Koehn-Fairbanks said. “You never know what it’s going to be like at state. You can’t exactly prepare for it. Even being here last year, you never know what you’re going to get.”
McLean led Battle Creek with team-highs of 14 kills and 19 set assists, while Seifert tallied 12 kills and 13 digs, while Zohner added eight kills and 11 digs. Sophomore Paytyn Taake had 21 digs, while sophomore Kaitlyn Pochop had 16 set assists.
In the opener, Battle Creek took advantage of three St. Paul attack errors, along with a McLean solo block and a Taake service ace, to snatch an early 6-4 lead. The Bravettes led three more times, including as late as 11-10 after a Seifert kill, before the Wildcats scored 12 of the set’s next 14 points. The run included seven kills by six different players, capped by a spike from Josie Jakubowski, to put the Wildcats in front 22-13.
“I thought early on ... just some of our ball-control things were shaky, making some mistakes we haven’t made all year,” Koehn-Fairbanks said. “I think our serving in the first set really carried us and gave us a little breathing space.”
St. Paul defeats Battle Creek
ST. PAUL (34-0): Paige Lukasiewicz 14d; Noel Roan 3a, 6d; Josie Jakubowski 12k, 2a, 11d; Abby Elstermeier 3k, 2b, 1d; Jenna Jakubowski 5k, 3d; Brooke Poppert 9k, 1d; Olivia Poppert 3k, 12d, 34s; Teegan Hansel 8k; Camryn Morgan 2a, 5d.
BATTLE CREEK (28-6): Paytyn Taake 2a, 21d, 2s; Makenna Taake 2k, 1b, 3d; BriAnna Zohner 8k, 3b, 11d, 1s; Madaline Taake 2k, 1b, 1a, 2d, 1s; Kaitlyn Pochop 9d, 16s; Riley Seifert 12k, 2b, 1a, 13d; Renee Brummels 2b, 1d; Tria McLean 14k, 2b, 1a, 8d, 19s.