Volleyball fans had to wait for the final night of the Class A regular season to see the top two teams in the class face off against each other, but it proved to be well worth the wait as Elkhorn South outlasted Papillion-La Vista South in five sets to repeat as Metro Volleyball Tournament champions.
“It’s such an honor and I feel like we’ve really worked hard for this,” Elkhorn South junior libero Estella Zatechka said. “We’ve put all the work on our days off and we’ve lifted every single morning so it’s just been some hard work.”
Elkhorn South knocked off the Titans 25-22, 21-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-10 at Papillion-La Vista South on Thursday and will head into district play next week with a 26-1 record.
“Papio South is such a great competitor,” Elkhorn South coach Chelsea Potter said. “That’s the first time that we’ve seen them this season, a much anticipated matchup and I give the highest of compliments to their team and their coaching staff. They are a great team of athletes and well-coached young girls. I’m proud of our girls, I’m proud of the whole championship match. That’s what you want a championship match to be like for sure.”
Thursday’s showdown was the second straight five-setter for the Titans after they went the distance with rival Papillion-La Vista in Wednesday’s semifinal round. For the Storm, however, it was a new experience; their longest match of the season was a four-set win against Gretna last week.
Papio South closed out the fourth set on a roll, winning five of the last seven rallies to extend the match, but the Storm took control from the first serve in game five and never let the Titans back into the game. Elkhorn South jumped out to a 3-0 lead and forced an early Papio South timeout, then extended the lead to 8-4 to draw the Titans’ second timeout.
The closest Papillion-La Vista South got from there was three points — 12-9 — before the Storm won three of the last four rallies to close it out. The five-set victory should only help the Storm as they head into the postseason.
“It for sure is great experience, and the Metro Tournament is always kind of like a mini-state [tournament],” Potter said. “There are such strong competitors in the Metro Conference and we’ve been watching Papio South’s season, they’ve been watching our season, so a much anticipated matchup heading into the postseason for both of us.”
Senior middle blocker and Nebraska commit Rylee Gray posted a career-high 29 kills on .356 hitting and five blocks. Gray came out on fire early, putting down 17 kills in the first two sets alone.
“Estella had amazing passes out of serve receive, Kylie [Weeks] too; Madi [Woodin] was putting the ball in the perfect position, so it made my life pretty easy for playing right side for like the first time ever,” Gray said. “My teammates make it so easy for me.”
Gray missed that four-set win against Gretna on Oct. 13 after testing positive for COVID-19, but she was back in the lineup for the Storm when the Metro Tournament began on Monday and Potter has been experimenting with some different rotations since her return.
“They did a great job without me,” Gray said. “I was at home supporting them. But just adjusting with this lineup, that was our third game playing with the lineup and everyone just adjusted so well. Girls that hadn’t played all season played some points. We all just adjusted really well. We all trust each other so well, so it just makes it easy.”
The Titan defense really keyed in on Weeks, Elkhorn South’s dynamic outside hitter and a 2022 Arkansas commit, but her aggressiveness never waned and she still managed to put down 25 kills and 20 digs. Woodin, a junior setter committed to South Dakota, dished out a season-high 62 assists and chipped in three blocks and three kills. Zatechka, a Missouri commit, showed up all over the court en route to a career-high 50 digs.
“I’m super proud of their intangible leadership,” Potter said. “I saw how engaged they were with everybody in between plays in the huddle and how engaged they were during timeouts. They were coaching on the court for me, relaying messages for me, so I’m proud of that aspect, and of course their play was outstanding tonight. They were super checked in and I’m proud of them for that also.”
The Storm had to dig themselves out of a whole early in the night as Papillion-La Vista South pulled ahead 21-16 late in a back-and-forth first set. However, Elkhorn South settled in and won nine of the final 10 rallies to take a 1-0 lead in the match. Gray had nine kills on 14 attacks.
“I just reminded the girls to play our game,” Potter said about the turn-around. “I said remember that we always play with heart, we always play for each other and to stay in the attack mode as much as we can. We had to fight off being behind a few different times. When the score says we’re behind, not being in defensive mode but being in attack mode is how can change our momentum within a set.”
Papio South raced out to a 9-3 lead in the second but Elkhorn South rallied to cut the deficit to one late. The Titans closed out the set with a 3-0 run, however, to even up the match at one set apiece.
Elkhorn South led 7-4, 13-8 and 16-10 in the third set before the Titans pulled within two a few different times, but Elkhorn South finished it with a 3-1 run.
The fourth set featured a handful of ties and a few lead changes, but a 4-0 Titan run gave Papio South the lead for good. Elkhorn South cut it to one a couple of times, but the Titans closed the set on a 5-2 run including a pair of kills and a block by freshman outside hitter Lauren Medeck, who struggled mightily early but came up big in the fourth and fifth sets to give the Titans a chance. She finished with 10 kills and four blocks.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Lauren,” Papillion-La Vista South coach Katie Tarman said. “She is an incredibly hard worker, she listens, she’s coachable and she’s only going to get better with time.”
Sophomore outside hitter Stella Adeyemi led the Titans with 22 kills on .442 hitting. Senior outside hitter Breckyn Moore added 11 kills and 11 digs. Junior setter Ava LeGrand, a Kansas State commit, totaled 53 assists, 28 digs, seven kills and five blocks.
“We knew we were going to have a battle with them,” Tarman said. “I thought that we played well, but not well enough. They were pretty consistent throughout the whole match. We learned throughout the match, but we weren’t able to convert that in the fifth set. We’ll take what we learned and we’ll get ready for the next time.”
Thursday’s match very well might be a preview of the Class A state final, but before we get there both teams will have to take care of business in districts, which begin on Tuesday.
“We’ve got to go one week at a time,” Potter said. “We said at the beginning of the season we want to win each week, and obviously we know state’s the week after, but we have to now focus on our district competition and being our best there, fine-tuning things and taking care of business one week at a time.”