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2023 State Volleyball Tournament Championship Highlights

by Nov 4, 2023Preps Volleyball

2023 State Volleyball Tournament Championship Highlights
Photo Credit: Christian Naujokaitis

The 2023 NSAA State Volleyball Championships shifted to the Devaney Center on Saturday to crown six state champions.

Previous coverage: Wednesday | Thursday | Friday


No. 2 Overton 3, No. 1 Cambridge 0 (25-21, 25-21, 29-27)

After coming up just short in the championship last year, the Overton Eagles returned with a vengeance and swept their way through the D2 field en route to the school’s first volleyball state title.

After splitting their previous meetings 3-1 and 2-3, the Eagles took the Trojans down in straight sets to start the proceedings on Saturday morning. 

“We have battled with Cambridge and they’ve been a tough one, and we knew they would be coming all the way down here,” Coach Haley Ryan said. “So it was nice to get it in three. There was a lot of back and forth and these girls just battled all the way to the end. Just with their experience and their leadership and just being here before and having that opportunity, I think these girls did a wonderful job of sticking with it and just finishing all the way to the end.”

Seniors JoLee Ryan and Natalie Wood nearly matched Cambridge’s point total on their own, combining for 29 kills. Ryan, the daughter of the head coach, finished with 15 kills, 13 digs and three aces in her final match. Wood added 24 kills, eight digs and five blocks.

“It’s crazy,” JoLee Ryan said. “Just growing up watching, being a student manager on the team, always wanting this and then with my friends, we’ve grown up together playing volleyball since third grade. The connection is just, it’s there. You have to be a great team, but just the talent and the love that we have for each other is pretty amazing and it’s really special.”

Overton opened the match with a 10-2 run and held a 24-14 lead late before a furious rally from the Trojans, saving seven set points before Wood finally closed it out. 

The second set was much closer with Cambridge taking a 20-19 lead late, but Overton finished on a 6-1 run. Wood had two kills and a block assist in the final five rallies while sophomore Daisy Ryan scored the winning kill.

Overton opened up a 17-10 lead in set three, but again Cambridge rallied, surging ahead at 22-21. The lead exchanged hands a few more times until Overton finally capitalized on its fourth match-point opportunity as senior Adysen McCarter followed a kill from JoLee Ryan with one of her own.

“When we lost to Howells-Dodge last year, I didn’t shed a tear,” JoLee Ryan said. “I was ready to come back and get it back … We were ready to come down here and take it. Nobody as going to stop us. We were hungry, we wanted it and we’d been here so we knew exactly what we needed to do as a team, as coaches, as players. We knew how to come out and bring it.”

Senior Jalen Kent and junior Erin Johnson led the Trojans with 13 kills apiece while combining for 33 digs.

>> Third-Place: No. 5 Wynot 3, No. 3 Meridian 1 (22-25, 33-31, 25-23, 25-18)


No. 6 Sumner-Eddyville-Miller 3, No. 5 Amherst 1 (28-26, 25-15, 20-25, 25-21)

Sumner-Eddyville-Miller pulled off the season reverse sweep over Fort Kearny Conference rival Amherst behind a monster performance from senior Mikah O’Neill.

After going 2-2 against the Broncos during the regular season including a sub-district final sweep, the Mustangs rolled to a four-set victory at the Devaney Center to claim the second state title in program history and first since 1981.

“I had a little bit of anxiety; when you play a team four times and each of us had won two games, you just never know ow the girls are going to come out and play,” Coach Tammy Kenton said. “I knew that the girls had gained a lot of confidence after winning the last two, but when it comes down to a state tournament you just need everybody to show up. I knew the team that probably made fewer mistakes and could place the ball was going to win, and fortunately that was us today.”

O’Neill capped a big week in Lincoln with 33 kills on .303 hitting, 28 digs, two blocks and an ace. The senior middle recorded 83 kills in 12 sets at the state tournament, including a 35-kill performance in a five-set opening round win.

“She’s just a baller,” Kenton said of O’Neill. “She just loves the game, and when you love the game and you’re willing to listen and play the ball, those things are just going to continue to happen when you continue to work hard and play the game and want to win, those things just come your way. It’s just very well deserved.”

Sophomore Taryn Arbuthnot, O’Neill’s cousin, finished with 23 kills, 19 kills, two blocks and two aces. Junior libero Allie Rohde was credited with 37 digs.

Every first set of the tournament for Amherst proved to be a marathon. The Broncos pulled out a 30-28 win against BDS in the quarterfinals then followed that with a 31-29 first-set win over top-seeded West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic in the semis.

Saturday proved to be more of the same as the first set included 11 ties and six lead changes. Both teams failed to capitalize on set-point opportunities late, but O’Neill have S-E-M its third chance with a kill then delivered a tough serve that led to an errant Amherst attack.

O’Neill had 13 kills on .480 hitting in the first set alone.

“Coach always says the first set is really important, and I felt like I need to get that game and the momentum started and knowing like, ‘Hey girls, we can do this,’ and then finding those spots and telling my teammates ‘Hey, go to this spot, I promise it’s going to work,’” O’Neill said. “We just took I to our advantage and I had amazing setters who set me the ball and gave me it to hit those spots.”

The second set featured much less drama as S-E-M closed the game on a 13-3 run to take a 2-0 lead. Amherst turned things around in the third set, using a 9-2 run to build a six-point advantage, enough to hold on and extend the match.

However, the Mustangs returned the favor in set four with a 9-2 opening run. The Broncos pulled within three a few times, but that’s as close as they got as O’Neill put the finishing touches on the win with a big match-point kill.

“I started crying because I was so happy,” ONeill said about the last kill. “It felt amazing and I didn’t even have words in that moment. I was just so happy.”

Senior Hannah Herrick led the Broncos with 15 kills and 34 digs while senior Saryn Pickett added 12 kills, 25 assists and 22 digs.

>> Third Place: No. 7 Elgin Public/Pope John 3, No. 1 West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic 1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-22, 25-15)


No. 1 Lincoln Lutheran 3, No. 2 Clarkson/Leigh 2 (25-23, 25-21, 20-25, 22-25, 15-12)

It took a couple of early comebacks plus a fifth game to finish the job, but Lincoln Lutheran captured its third straight title and fourth in the last five years by outlasting Clarkson/Leigh.

“I’m just so proud of these girls,” Lutheran coach Sue Ziegler said. “They fought back through adversity in sets one and two, and then when we were down and had to come back in the fifth set, they just knew knew what they had to get done. We do a lot of situational drills in practice that they have their confidence and they remain trusting in each other, and that just helps all the girls whether you’re out on the court or on the bench, and the coaches too.”

Lily and Sophie Wohlgemuth combined for 39 kills to lead the offense while junior Keri Leimbach, a Nebraska commit, was credited with 36 digs. Leimbach is now 3-for-3 playing in her future home at the Devaney Center.

Lutheran fell behind 19-12 in the first set before rallying to win it with a 13-4 run. Similarly, the Warriors found themselves trailing 21-19 before closing the set on a 6-0 run to take a 2-0 match lead. Lily Wohlgemuth, a sophomore, did the heavy lifting early with 13 of her match-high 20 kills in the first two sets.

“She did really well,” Sophie said of Lily. “I was kind of struggling in those first four sets and she stepped up when I wasn’t.”

Lutheran continued to dig holes for itself in sets three and four, falling behind 21-16 and 17-10, but the magic ran out and attack errors piled up as the Warriors made too many mistakes to pull off any more comebacks.

Lutheran totaled 33 attack errors in the second, third and fourth sets, but something changed heading into the fifth. The Warriors’ only attack error didn’t come until the 26th rally. 

“We talked about our unforced errors and we were just giving them points,” Ziegler said. “We can’t be doing that … If we could clean it up and and take some of those out, we knew that we were right back in the game.”

Tied at 10-all, Lutheran put together a 4-1 run to earn match point before hitting into the net. However, Sophie Wohlgemuth closed it out on the next rally with a kill.

“Jillian and I had talked about it and she said she was going to give me the last one, so I was ready for it,” Wohlgemuth said. “They gave me a hole in the block and I put it down.”

Senior Chloe Hanel led the Patriots with 19 kills on .314 hitting, 20 digs, four blocks and an ace.

>> Third-Place: No. 5 Elmwood-Murdock 3, No. 3 Oakland-Craig 1 (27-29, 25-14, 34-32, 25-23)


No. 2 Minden 3, No. 1 Kearney Catholic 2 (23-25, 25-22, 25-23, 19-25, 15-10)

Minden made it all the way to the sub-district finals without a blemish on its record, but Kearney Catholic finally caught the Whippets, handing them their first loss in five sets.

Less than two weeks later, the two teams ran into each other once again, this time in Lincoln with a state title on the line. Just like last time, it went five. However, the Whippets found a way to flip the result, getting off to a fast start and holding on to finish the year 36-1.

“We knew it would be a tough battle,” Minden coach Julie Ratka said. “We just played them a week and a half ago. It feels like forever ago, honestly, and we didn’t play very well in the fifth. I was really hoping we didn’t take it to the fifth [tonight], but we did. But I could tell by my team’s body language in between the fourth and the fifth that they were going to go get it. Our defense was top-notch today. Our serve receive was really good, which opened up some things for our attackers to do some things and we just hung in there.”

Minden junior Mattie Kamery and sophomore Mya Emery, who split the setting duties and also hit, both recorded triple-doubles. Kamery led the way with 22 kills, 19 digs, 15 assists and six blocks while Emery finished with 12 kills, 24 assists, 22 digs and four blocks.

The first four sets including 35 ties and 16 lead changes as neither side was able to create much separation throughout the night. The Stars scored the final two points of set one. Minden closed the second set on a 4-1 run then used a 3-0 spurt to break a 20-all tie late in set two.

“I thought it was really even,” Ratka said. “I thought it was point for point. Honestly the first set, I was wishing we could have snack that one out because it was point for point and we just had a couple errors at the end of that. So point for point and just a battle. We just kept grinding.”

Kearney Catholic didn’t wait until getting to 20 to make its move in set four, using a 5-0 run to surge ahead then trading points the rest of the way to extend the match to a game five.

Minden carried its momentum into the final frame, scoring three of the first four points to build a lead it would not relinquish. The Whippets gradually pulled away as the Stars could not find a way to string together points.

“I think last time we played them we did not get out to a fast start,” Emery said. “It was two or three points that they started gaining on us. So we were really, ‘get out from the start, get going and let’s win this fifth set.’”

Senior Aibrey Mandernach led the Stars with 20 kills while senior Margaret Haarberg added 16 kills, 16 digs and two aces.

>> Third-Place: No. 3 Gothenburg 3, No. 5 Pierce 2 (25-19, 25-12, 20-25, 24-26, 15-9)


No. 3 Omaha Skutt 3, No. 1 Norris 0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-15)

The streak continues for Omaha Skutt.

The SkyHawks put on a masterful display of volleyball in a sweep over the top-seeded Titans, securing their ninth straight state championship.

Coach Renee Saunders woke up without her voice on Saturday, but her team didn’t end up needing much guidance from her in the match, out-hitting Norris .297 to .161.

“I’m speechless — and not because I can’t talk — but when you say that out loud, it’s absolutely surreal,” Saunders said. “Last year was surreal. Every year that we’ve done it, I tell the kids all the time it’s not going to be easy. Norris is a great team, but we did exactly what we needed to do to win the game.

“I think the coolest part about it is every year we come in we all about how this team has never won state, so yeah, we can learn from our experiences and we can use those things, but this team had never won state before. We knew that we were going to be challenged along the way,  but we knew from the beginning of the year that we had a pretty special group.”

The SkyHawks have just one senior on their roster, libero Paisley Douglas. The USC pledge is the next in a long line now of SkyHawks who have won multiple state titles. She finished with 21 digs.

“It’s really, really cool,” Douglas said. “I’m blessed to be able to have done it with a different group of amazing girls and to have awesome coaches that help me and have helped me grow as a player.”

Perhaps the biggest difference-maker in the game was junior middle blocker Kiera Link, who just missed out on a double-double with 10 kills on .421 hitting and nine blocks. The Silver Hawks out-blocked the Titans 11 to three overall.

“It was crazy,” Douglas said of Link’s performance. “She was so good. She’s been working so hard all season and for the past two years that I’ve played with her. Every single day she’s come in to practice and put in that work, and I think it’s really special for her to have it pay off, especially in the state championship.”

Each of the first two sets including seven ties and four lead changes as the Titans put up a good fight early, but the SkyHawks closed on runs of 5-2 and 5-1 to take a 2-0 match lead. 

Skutt led wire to wire in set three, scoring the first there points and never looking back. Junior Abbie Hagedorn, who led the SkyHawks with 11 kills on .333 hitting and 12 digs, put a cap on the win with a match-point ace, one of her three on the night. She called watching the ball hit the floor for that final time “surreal.”

“I’m in a new position this year,” Hagedorn said. “Last year I got to be here and win, but this year it’s totally different. I feel like I’ve had to kind of step up and I’m super proud of all of my teammates because they’ve been able to help me, especially Paisley. We were both kind of new leaders for this team and for each other, definitely, and so it was just surreal to be able to be the person to finish it out.”

Junior Anna Jelinek, a Long Beach State commit, led the Titans with 14 kills on .270 hitting and 14 digs. Junior Lexi Hasselbalch posted 10 kills on .500 while Omaha commit Celia Spilker added eight kills on .467 hitting, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the now nine-time state champions.


No. 2 Lincoln Southwest 3, No. 8 Papillion-La Vista 0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-16)

Lincoln Southwest senior setter Malayah Long said after the Silver Hawks’ semifinal win over Bellevue West that she wanted to end the season with a bang, and that’s exactly what they did as they captured their first state title in dominant fashion.

“It’s a feeling that I can’t even put into genuine words right now,” Coach Jessica Kirkendall said. “It feels really good and I’m glad that it was this group that was able to do it because these girls have been playing together for so long. They wanted it and they fought for it and I’m proud of how they came together at the very end.”

The Silver Hawks held the eighth-seeded Monarchs, who knocked off No. 1 seed Papillion-La Vista South in the first round, to .034 hitting to become the first Lincoln team to win the Class A title in 25 years.

Senior Emerson Lionberger, an Air Force commit, posted a match-high 11 kills on .348 hitting, three blocks and two aces. Senior Maddie Rink, a Northern Colorado commit, added nine kills on .421 hitting. Long, a Marquette commit, put up 33 assists, 10 digs and two aces with her her future coach in the crowd.

The first set was close until the Silver Hawks ripped off a 12-2 run to end it. Lionberger set the tone with six kills on seven swings. After hitting .375 in the first set, the Silver Hawks cooled off a bit in the second, but their defense remained strong as they held Papio to .000 hitting to take the 2-0 lead.

The Silver Hawks jumped out to a 5-1 lead in set three, but the Monarchs didn’t quit, using a 7-1 run of their own to jump ahead. The lead changed hands a few more times, leaving the Monarchs in front 16-14.

At that point, Long found Lionberger for a kill to side out, then Lionberger went back to the service line… and she just kept serving. The Silver Hawks closed the mach on an 11-0 run to put an exclamation point on the victory.

“It was definitely something that I felt ready for … It was really just kind of next point, next point, next point,” Lionberger said. “Kind of something we worked on throughout the season is next-point mentality, if you’r not able to get the last point, get the next one. So going back, having my serving routine, reseting and then being able to keep the ball in play for my team.”