Waverly moved one step closer to punching its ticket to the state tournament on Wednesday as the second-seeded Vikings swept the top-seeded Ashland-Greenwood Bluejays in the Class B-3 subdistrict final.
The Vikings won 25-15, 25-23, 25-18 behind big games from senior outside hitters Whitney Lauenstein and Bailey Jeffers.
“Every chance we get to play this year, it’s just a blessing and an opportunity for these kids to get better and to experience the joy and energy that they play with because man, they get loud sometimes,” Waverly coach Terri Neujahr told Hail Varsity. “Ashland-Greenwood is such a great team and the kids executed the game plan that we came into tonight really, really well, so I’m excited about that.”
Waverly got off to a fast start, using a 9-0 run to take a 13-2 lead in the first set before cruising to a 10-point win.
The Bluejays kept it close throughout the second set, though the Vikings managed to pull ahead 23-18 late. After a timeout to regroup, Ashland-Greenwood rallied to tie it up with a 5-0 run. Waverly junior Hannah Allick stopped the run with a setter dump, however, and Lauenstein, a 2021 Husker commit, closed it out with an ace.
Ashland-Greenwood used a 4-0 run to take a 9-6 lead in the third set, but Waverly responded soon after with a 5-0 run to pull ahead 15-11. The lead bounced from four to two and back again a few times until the Vikings pulled away with a 4-0 run to make it 23-17, and they closed it out a few rallies later.
Lauenstein led the way with 19 kills, though the Ashland-Greenwood defense started loading up to slow her down after she recorded seven kills on 11 swings in the first set. Jeffers took advantage of the attention paid to Lauenstein to have a big game herself, finishing with 13 kills on .667 hitting.
“She was very efficient tonight,” Neujahr said about Jeffers. “She had a really, really good game. We expect that teams will do that moving forward, to try to take some things away against Whitney. We have to have a lot of patience in what we do. Somebody like Whitney has the ability to just thump the ball straight down but when you’ve got a big block, you can’t do that and they get hands on it and more balls tend to come up. So she needs to make sure she has patience moving forward, as Bailey does as well.”
The reason teams can load up more on Lauenstein is the Vikings will be without middle blocker Bekka Allick, a 2022 Nebraska commit, for the rest of the season. She broke her leg back on Oct. 6 during a loss at Wahoo. Though she hasn’t been in the lineup, Allick has been active on the bench, cheering her teammates on.
“Bekka has always been someone that has a very high positive energy that she always gives off,” Lauenstein said. “When she hurt her ankle she was like ‘Come on, I want to go back in,’ because she is a big part of our team. Having her on the bench, it’s like she’s still on the court. She really has a loud voice that carries so we still hear her cheering us on. She’s like no other teammate I’ve ever played with.”
Neujahr said senior Madi Banitt has stepped up in Bekka Allick’s absence, and the Vikings have continued to rack up wins. They’ve won eight of their nine games since Allick went down, and they avenged the one loss to Elkhorn with win over the Antlers a few matches later.
“When you lose somebody like Bekka, that is an emotional, kind of a let-down blow, and I thought the kids have just done a great job of trusting each other and understanding that whatever we have moving forward, whatever we can control that’s what we’re going to control,” Neujahr said. “You can’t control something like a broken leg. So as we move forward, it’s what can we do on our side, what can we control and then try and let everything else go.”
The Allick sisters spent their first two years or high school at Lincoln North Star, but prior to the 2020-21 school year their family moved to Waverly and the girls transferred schools. Bekka is a 6-foot-3 middle blocker while Hannah is a 5-foot-9 setter.
“Honestly, I was stunned,” Neujahr said. “I had no idea that it was happening. I guess some of the kids knew that they were looking for a house in Waverly, but I didn’t have any idea until they had already purchased a home. They have been a great addition to our program and they’re with us in every sense of the culture that we have. I’m so excited to have them; the feel like family.”
The two future Huskers had played together previously for Volleyball Club Nebraska, and Lauenstein said it was a dream come true when she learned they’d get a chance to play together for their high school as well.
“I was so excited,” Lauenstein said. “We were in Kansas City and Bekka told us in the hotel room, she was like ‘I talked to my mom about it and I think we’re going to go.’ I was in tears, jumping up and down. Bekka and I were so happy, we were both kind of like just super ecstatic because we’ve been waiting for it for a long time. In club, we were talking about it for so long.”
Unfortunately, their time sharing the court was limited to just 18 matches. However, the pair formed one of the best attacking duos in Class B and even with Bekka out of the lineup, the 21-6 Vikings are one win away from making it back to the state tournament.
Waverly advanced to the Class B semifinals last year before falling to eventual champion Omaha Skutt, but that team included seven seniors led by standout setter Anni Evans, who is now at Nebraska as a walk-on. The addition of the Allick sisters helped soften that blow, however.
“When you lose Anni Evans who’s at Nebraska now, she was our setter for four years and the leader of everything that we did, so that has been challenging for the kids this year as far as who’s going to take on that leadership role and who is the go-to voice on the team and things like that, Neujahr said. “It has evolved and the kids have all grown really in their leadership skills all year long which I’m excited for them as women that they have learn and grown and taken on a different role than maybe they’ve ever had before.”
With Evans gone and with Hannah Allick joining the fold, Waverly switched to a 6-2 to get both Hannah and senior setter Maddy Wells on the court. After playing with Evans her first three years, it took Lauenstein some time to adjust this year.
“It was difficult in the beginning because Anni just puts it in the same spot every single time and having a little bit unexperienced setters was a little bit difficult,” Lauenstein said. “But then they just started building with us and building with me and grinding with me, and their sets from the beginning of the season to now are so good, almost compared to Anni.”
Lauenstein is averaging 5.0 kills per set on over .400 hitting. At 6-foot-1, she has the athleticism and power to rise up and put down kills at a high rate. In addition to out-of-system attacking, Lauenstein said there’s one part of her game she really wants to focus on improving before she sets foot on campus at Nebraska.
“It’s always going to be passing because passing is the biggest part of the game,” Lauenstein said. “Tonight I didn’t pass my best, but I always know the things I need to fix — quiet platform, I always need to take a deep breath before they serve it to me, I need to want the ball. It’s always going to be passing and serve receive because that’s the whole game.”
The No. 3 Vikings will host the B-3 District Final on Saturday against Elkhorn North, the No. 14 seed. As for the Bluejays, they’ll get a chance to host a district final as well as No. 12 Beatrice will head to Ashland-Greenwood.
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.