Norfolk Catholic showed why it’s the top-ranked Class C team in Northeast and North Central Nebraska on Thursday with a straight-sets victory, 25-14, 25-17, 25-17, over archrival Pierce at the Norfolk Catholic Activities Center.

“Our girls came out and they played really well tonight,” Norfolk Catholic coach Michaela Bellar said. “We’re really working on improving certain areas of the game, but our girls were more aggressive tonight, which I really liked.”

Catholic has three go-to options — two front-row and one back-row — in every rotation. Defensive specialist Anna Neuhalfen, libero Taylor Kautz and setter Carly Marshall helped to keep the Knights in-system throughout the night.

“Carly’s awesome,” Bellar said. “She hustles after everything, and she tries her hardest to get the ball where her teammates need it.”

One of those teammates is freshman outside hitter Chanatee Robles, who led the Knights’ attack with 15 kills.

“She’s fun to watch,” Bellar said. “She’s got some tough swings, but you’ve got to give credit to our passers and our setters for getting her the ball where she needs it.”

Pierce opened the match by scoring the first four points, but once the Knights earned their first side-out, they were off to the races, scoring nine of the next 11 points, then later going on a 5-0 run and a pair of 4-0 runs en route to a 25-14 first-set win.

“We knew coming in that Norfolk Catholic was going to be a good team,” Pierce coach Brittany Weber said. “So, our goal was to come out and be good defensively and to attack and be aggressive offensively.

“Defensively, we came up a little short. We were on our heels a lot and let a lot of balls hit the floor. And, offensively, we were pretty passive and weren’t really getting after it.”

Outside hitter Zoe Brenden was an exception — the senior finished the match with 11 kills.

“She works hard on defense, and she’s one of our go-to hitters,” Weber said.

Norfolk Catholic kept the pedal to the metal in the second set, highlighted by Robles, who had a stretch of three straight kills, going cross-court, off the block and taking advantage of a Pierce overpass.

Pierce led 16-15 before the Knights scored 10 of the last 11 points.

Knight senior right-side hitter Abby Miller recorded five of her nine kills in the second set and kept the Bluejays off balance with a series of short-set and slide-step kills.

“Abby did a lot better tonight,” Bellar said. “When we played (Guardian Angels Central Catholic) on Tuesday, she got in a tipping game, but today she was more aggressive, which was awesome to see.”

The third set was all Norfolk Catholic. The Knights had leads of 9-1 and 16-4 on the way to a final tally of 25-17.

Despite the setback, Weber said she’s confident her young Bluejays will work hard to improve.

“We just know that as we continue on through the season, we’re going to keep taking steps forward and hopefully at the end of the season, we’re where we need to be,” she said.

Bellar said her 2-0 Knights still have a lot of room for improvement.

“But I like where we’re at and I think our girls are ready to improve every single day. ... I like where we’re heading.”

Both the Knights and Bluejays are scheduled to play in the Columbus Scotus invitational on Saturday. Pierce opens with Stanton while Norfolk Catholic battles Wahoo Neumann.

NCHS defeats PHS 25-14, 25-17, 25-17

PIERCE (0-2): Zoe Brenden, 9k, 1b; Gina Wragge, 1b; Faith Lubischer, 2k, 2a; Tazlynn Sporleder, 1k, 1a; Abby Meier, 1k; Kenzie Moeller, 1a.

NORFOLK CATHOLIC (2-0): Carly Marshall, 2k, 1a; Hayden Wolf, 5k; Channatee Robles, 14k; Mary Fennessy, 10k, 1a, 2b; Anna Neuhalfen, 2a; Abby Miller, 9k; Hannah Wilcox, 2k.

Key: k=kills, a-service aces, b-solo blocks

In other news

Two speakers at the Nebraska Farmers Union state convention at Divots Conference Center on Friday afternoon offered visions of the future of Norfolk and Nebraska, one highlighting positive change and another painting a potentially grim outlook.