Papillion-La Vista South and Papillion-La Vista faced off in the nightcap of Wednesday’s Metro Volleyball Tournament semifinals, and for the second time in three meetings the battle for Papio turned into a five-set instant classic.
Just like in their first meeting, however, it was the Titans who came out on top (25-23, 22-25,16-25, 25-22, 16-14) to punch their ticket to Thursday’s final. The Monarchs won the previous showdown 2-0 in the semifinals of the Allison Weston Monarch Invitational last month.
“When we play Papillion, they always give us their best and we always have to give our best, which is obviously something we love to do,” Papio South coach Katie Tarman said. “We love to compete. It’s a really fun match in that sense. They challenged us a lot. Our block was not quite where we needed it to be but we started to pick that up in the fourth and fifth sets, so I think that was a big deal for us.”
The match came down to the final few rallies of game five. The Titans pulled ahead early at 9-5 before a 3-0 response from the Monarchs. Papio South scored back-to-back points to push the lead back to three at 11-8 and draw Papio’s second timeout.
Out of the timeout, Papillion-La Vista scored three straight including an ace and a kill by senior outside hitter Morgan Hickey to tie it up, and two more ties followed before Creighton commit Norah Sis gave the Monarchs match point at 14-13 with a kill. Tarman called her second timeout at that point, and when play resumed the Titans ripped off three straight (two kills and a Papio attack error) to rip victory out of the jaws of defeat.
“These kids have learned how to handle some pressure,” Tarman said. ‘We teach it and we practice a pressure situation every day. I think that’s just something that we continue to want to get to face. We want that pressure, we want to feel it. They handled it tonight.”
The Titans finished strong in the first set as well, falling behind 19-15 before closing on a 10-4 run. The second set included 13 ties as neither side was able to create any separation until the Monarchs took control with a 6-2 finish to even the match at one set apiece.
The Third set was all Monarchs as a 6-0 run gave Papio a 10-4 lead early. The Titans cut it to four at 13-9 but Papillion-La Vista pulled away from there for a nine-point win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
“I challenged them that we love to play five, and we don’t get to do it every often,” Tarman said. “It slipped, and that can happen, but how do you respond to that situation? It shows a lot about our character. We challenged them, is this how you want to respond? What kind of character do you have?”
Papillion-La Vista continued to roll in the fourth set, using a 5-0 run to take a 10-6 lead, but this time the Titans didn’t let it slip away. Papio South responded with its own 5-0 run to take an 11-10 lead. The Monarchs scored three in a row but the Titans fired back with another 5-0 run to make it 16-13. Seven ties followed before Papillion-La Vista South made one final push and scored the last three points to extend the match and set up the decisive game five.
Papillion-La Vista South’s top attacker, sophomore outside hitter Stella Adeyemi, had just six kills through the first three sets, but she took over late to finish with 17 kills on .333 hitting.
“One thing that’s really important to our team is obviously communication and taking care of each other, and I think throughout the match we slowly kind of took care of each other a little more and a little more and a little more, and when we do that it kind of jells together and she’s able to be successful,” Tarman said.
Freshman outside hitter Lauren Medeck did the heavy lifting early with Adeyemi struggling to get involved and finished with 17 kills and four blocks. Senior opposite hitter Breckyn Moore chipped in 12 kills while junior setter and Kansas State commit Ava LeGrand contributed 52 assists, 24 digs, five blocks, four kills and an ace.
“She’s got some guts to her,” Tarman said about LeGrand. “She fights and she brings our level of play up.”
Papillion-La Vista got terrific play from its setter as well as freshman Reagan Hickey dished out a season-high 70 assists and also chipped in four blocks and an ace.
“She’s done a nice job distributing,” Papillion-La Vista coach John Svehla said. “She got our right side involved, Anna [Sis], and that was big to open it up a little bit for our middles and outside, and we have to keep doing that. Anna has to come up big for us and be somebody that we can depend on, and she was tonight for sure.”
Anna Sis converted each of her first nine attacks into kills and finished with 10 kills overall. Her sister Norah led everyone with a career-high 32 kills on .347 hitting. The Monarchs also got strong play from their middle blockers as Louisiana-Monroe commit Logan Jeffus had a big game with 18 kills on .421 hitting and six blocks while junior Karli Ahlers chipped in 11 kills on .346 hitting.
“It’s something definitely to build on,” Svehla said. “You talk about going head to head with one of the top teams in the state and it could have ended up either way. We could have been the winners just as easily as we lost. I’ve got to give them credit, they were able to find a few points there at the end we couldn’t. But I told the girls this is definitely something to gain confidence from.”
In the first semifinal, top-seeded Elkhorn South made short work of No. 5 seed Bellevue West with a 25-11, 25-11, 25-23 sweep. The Storm controlled the first two sets then pulled ahead late in the third to advance to Thursday’s final.
“Bellevue West is always a super strong opponent,” Elkhorn South coach Chelsea Potter said. “They turned it on in game three. We knew they are a very strong opponent, they have lots of offensive weapons and they’re a well-coached team. It’s one of the highlights of playing in the Metro so often is you get to see teams like that. I love the Metro Tournament because it highlights all the talent we have in our conference.”
Steady floor defense, a big block and aggressive serving by Elkhorn South kept the Thunderbirds uncomfortable throughout the first two sets as Bellevue West struggled to keep their attacks in-bounds or out of the net. Elkhorn South jumped out to a 7-1 lead and never looked back in the first game, then in the second the Storm used a 9-0 run to blow the game open.
“We’ve been trying to talk about the mentality of being on the attack no matter what and not on the defense,” Potter said. “We talked about that early on in the match and then had to fight them off in set three.”
The Thunderbirds led for much of game three, but the Storm kept battling back to tie it time and time again. The Thunderbirds’ final lead came at 19-18 before a 4-0 Storm run including a pair of kills by 2022 Arkansas commit Kylie Weeks, a setter dump by 2022 South Dakota commit Madi Woodin and an errant attack by a Thunderbird. That three-point margin was all Elkhorn South needed to hold on and finish off the sweep.
After a slow start, Weeks led all attackers with 17 kills on .342 hitting. She had 13 kills and just one error in the final two sets combined.
“She is a very versatile player and sees the court super well,” Potter said. “She’s also very smart and knows when she can be aggressive and when she needs to place the ball. Her teammates play really well around her. Madi Woodin, our setter, sets her up really nicely, so the chemistry between them is great.”
Woodin dished out 40 assists while Nebraska commit Rylee Gray chipped in 15 kills on .333 hitting and three blocks. The Storm notched nine blocks as a team with junior middle blocker Mia Mroczek leading the defensive effort with seven blocks including three solo stuffs.
“We’ve been working on that a lot, on our block speed,” Potter said. “Mia is really digging into that as being one of her anchors on the team, as being her role, is putting up a good block for our defense to play behind. I’m proud of her, to see her growth in that even just over the last couple of weeks.”
With the top two seeds advancing, it sets up the first meeting of the season between Elkhorn South (25-1) and Papillion-La Vista South (26-4), who are also the top two teams in Class A.
“We’ve been waiting,” Talman said. “Our schedules didn’t match up at any time in the season. Metro Tournament to me is just about the state tournament, so it’s kind of nice to get a chance to see them.”
Thursday’s final at Papillion-La Vista South is set for 6 p.m.
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.