On Thursday night, the top two high school volleyball teams in the state squared off in an instant classic. No. 1 Papillion-La Vista battled back from a 0-2 hole to beat No. 2 Elkhorn South in five sets.
Led by 2021 Creighton commit Norah Sis, the Monarchs (10-0) took down the Storm (7-1) and 2021 Nebraska commit Rylee Gray 23-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22, 17-15 at Papillion-La Vista.
After the match, Hail Varsity caught up with Gray.
“It was great,” Gray said about the match. “It literally felt like a state championship game. It was their crowd, our crowd, going back at it. It was a lot of fun.”
Gray finished the match with 24 kills on .320 hitting and eight blocks including one solo.
She finished with 24 kills on .320 hitting at 8 blocks. pic.twitter.com/fFvp49vZ4I
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) September 13, 2019
The Storm had the Monarchs on the ropes in their own gym, winning the first two sets and earning match-point in the fifth twice, but Papillion-La Vista rallied to remain undefeated and hand the Storm their first loss of the season.
“I think we just don’t ever quit,” Gray said about her team. “We just keep going until the very end, we never give up on each other. We’re so confident in each other and have so much trust between each other. We have such good chemistry … We just learned a ton about Papio so now we know that. Just little things that we can work on in practice in those tight matches type of points that we ended up losing.”
Gray, a 6-foot-14 middle blocker, is averaging 3.9 kills per set on .392 hitting and 1.2 blocks per set. She’s top-10 in Class A in all three statistical categories. Gray said her blocking has improved significantly, calling it the strength of her game at this point.
Gray committed to Nebraska in July of 2018, ahead of her sophomore season.
i’m staying home! i’m so blessed and excited to announce my commitment to the university of nebraska lincoln to continue my academic and volleyball career! i wouldn’t be here today without my family, coaches, teammates, and friends supporting me in everything i do! GO BIG RED!! pic.twitter.com/JQP97sgbu3
— Rylee Gray (@ryleegray_) July 7, 2018
“I had the offer for a year and I really took my time to decide if I wanted to go,” Gray said. “It was between Stanford and Nebraska. I chose because I want to stay home, close to my family. Both my grandparents were here today, my mom and dad, I want them to come watch me. All my friends, all these coaches, all my teammates, the people that got me here I want to watch me there.”
Gray said making her decision when she did took a weight off her shoulders and has allowed her to play freely over the last two seasons. She doesn’t feel any pressure from having the “Nebraska commit” tag connected to her name.
“People may know me as that, but I’m still me and that doesn’t change who I am and how I play,” Gray said.
Last season, Elkhorn South went 31-9 and made it to the Class B state championship, losing to Omaha Skutt (featuring another 2021 Husker commit in outside hitter Lindsay Krause) in three sets. Gray led the Storm with 3.2 kills per set on .405 hitting and 1.3 blocks per set as a sophomore.
Gray was an impact player as a freshman as well, averaging 2.7 kills per set on .439 hitting and 1.2 blocks per set as the Storm went 26-14, making it to the Class B state semifinals.
Gray said it’s tough to make it down to Lincoln to catch a Nebraska match during the high school season with tournaments nearly every weekend, but she is planning to attend the match against No. 1 Stanford next Wednesday — “That’s going to be a lot of fun.”
She’s also hoping to make it down for a few weekend matches further down the line. For the time being, however, she’s focused on helping the Storm bounce back this weekend as Elkhorn South is scheduled to play in the Millard North Invitational.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.