Papillion-La Vista went 36-2 last season but graduated seven seniors from that team. The Monarchs have had one of the tougher schedules in Class A and stumbled out of the gates as they worked new players into the lineup around future Creighton Bluejay Norah Sis.
Papio went 5-6 in its first 11. Since then, the Monarchs have lost just one time — to Omaha Skutt, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time — and on Thursday they extended their winning streak to seven by going 2-0 at the annual Marian-Papio-Pius triangular, hosted by Marian this year.
Papillion-La Vista took down Lincoln Pius X in three sets (18-25, 25-23, 25-20) then swept the Crusaders (25-20, 25-23) in the nightcap to improve to 15-7 on the year.
“I think this is what, maybe my 11th or 12th year, not including when I was an assistant at Marian?” Papio coach John Svehla said. “You know it’s a battle, you know it’s going to be three of the top teams in the state every year. To come out of it 2-0, I told the girls I’m proud of them. I was not happy after game one against Pius, and they knew it, and they responded well to my challenge. What it does is give us some confidence going forward and that’s ultimately what this team needs is to continue to build that confidence.”
Papillion-La Vista jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the first set against the Thunderbolts, but some tough serving by senior Josie Gabel sparked a big Thunderbolt run as Pius closed the set on an 18-7 stretch to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Monarchs got off to a good start in game two, taking a 5-1 lead, but later in the set the Bolts ripped off five straight to tie it at 19-19. Pius pulled ahead 21-20, then senior middle blocker Logan Jeffus took over for the Monarchs with four kills in the last seven rallies to even the match at one set apiece.
After the teams played to a draw through 22 points in set three, Papio took control with an 8-2 run and cruised to the finish.
Papio’s top three hitters — Sis, Jeffus and senior outside hitter Morgan Hickey — combined for 40 kills and just eight errors, hitting .513 as a trio.
“We really focus on that in practice, trying to play clean ball and don’t kill yourself,” Svehla said. “With this team, if we can make sure we don’t hurt ourself, we’re going to have a chance in every match I think.”
The Monarchs carried their strong play over into their second match as well, jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the first set against Marian. The Crusaders responded with five in a row to take the lead but the Monarchs blew the game open with an 8-1 run to take an 18-12 lead. Marian made a push late with a 4-1 run to cut a seven-point deficit down to four, but the Monarchs closed it out on the next point.
The Crusader showed they weren’t going down without a fight, racing out to a 9-3 lead in the second set. Papio made a big push, cutting the six point deficit down to two at 13-11 before Marian stretched it back out to seven.
With the Monarchs trailing 21-14, all signs pointed to the match going to a third set. Then Papillion-La Vista scored two in a row and Marian called its last timeout to regroup. The stoppage didn’t slow the Monarchs down one bit, however, as junior libero Samantha Riggs served what turned into an 8-0 run including a pair of aces that gave Papio a 22-21 lead. Marian tied it up with a kill by Amanda Loschen, but Papillion-La Vista won three of the last four rallies to complete the comeback.
“We just talked about taking it one point at a time,” Svehla said. “We do that in practice and we do that in the game and that’s all we can control is what we do on our side, being relentless on defense, being smart on offense, and if you do that you give yourself a chance. We started playing with a little bit of urgency. I didn’t think we started game two well, we kind of came out flat a little bit, but they got some urgency there at the end when we were out of timeouts and thankfully some balls dropped that we needed and we got momentum back.”
After recording 16 kills in the first match, Sis notched 13 more in the second, though the Crusaders made her earn every one and held her hitting percentage down. Hickey had a strong match with nine kills on .412 hitting.
Jeffus was a force at the net, converting her first five swings into kills and finishing with nine kills on 14 attempts. In the two matches, the Louisiana-Monroe commit totaled 23 kills on .487 hitting.
“We need her,” Svehla said. “She’s actually had two really big weeks. Against Westside I can’t remember how many kills she had, but she had like 18 against Millard South last week, and we need her. We need our middles, and Karli [Ahlers] has been doing a good job too of being an option on offense because we need to open up our pins. Teams are just going to stack against Norah and we can’t do that. We need some other options and Logan’s been doing what Logan does.”
In the first match of the day, Lincoln Pius X took down Marian 25-16, 23-25, 25-22. The Thunderbolts are playing without head coach Katie Wenz and JV coach Jake Moore while they are in quarantine, and assistant Jake Haar stepped up to fill the void. He led the Bolts to an upset against previously unbeaten (and nationally top-ranked) Elkhorn South last weekend, but the Bolts had to play without their two starting middle blockers in senior Cora Thomas and junior Regan Haith on Thursday.
The Bolts raced out to a 19-7 lead in the first set before a late Marian run made the final score look a bit more respectable.
The second set was much more competitive throughout, featuring several ties and a handful of lead changes. Nebraska basketball commit Alexis Markowski gave the Bolts a 22-21 lead with a kill on the slide but the Monarchs closed the set on a 4-1 run including a pair of kills by senior Sophi Steffes.
Sophia Gallagher served the Bolts to a 5-0 start including a pair of aces and Pius maintained the lead until Marian managed to pull ahead 19-16 with a 5-0 run. Pius tied it up at 20-all but the Crusaders scored the next two points. Then the Bolts hit Marian with a 5-0 run capped by a Markowski kill to seal the victory.
In two matches on Thursday night, Markowski recorded 28 kills and just two errors, hitting .520.
“She’s a heck of a player,” Svehla said about the future Husker. “She can swing all along the net, you have to be aware of where she’s at every time. They’re going to give her the ball, and thankfully we were able to side out enough when she was in the front row that she didn’t hurt us too terribly bad. But she’s still going to get her kills.”
Pius is sitting at 18-4 after the triangular and should get Wenz back on the bench next week. Marian dropped to 10-11.
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.