Two of the state’s best volleyball teams squared off during the final week of the regular season Tuesday.
Class C2 No. 1 Lincoln Lutheran got off to a great start on its senior night, but Class B No. 2 Norris turned the tables in set two and dominated the rest of the way for a 19-25, 25-18, 25-14, 25-13 victory.
Norris junior Anna Jelinek, a Long Beach State commit, bounced back from a tough first set to lead the way with 16 kills on .275 hitting and 14 digs. After the team hit negative in the first set, the Titans rebounded to finish at .233 for the match with freshman setter Malorie Boesiger dishing out 39 assists.
Lutheran won seven of the first 10 rallies of the night to build an early advantage then maintained the lead the rest of the way. Norris cut the deficit down to two a handful of times, but the Warriors closed out the set with a 4-0 run featuring Sophie Wohlgemuth at the service line.
“We were hitting negative I think, we were passing badly, and so we knew it couldn’t get worse,” Norris coach Christina Boesiger said. “So we were just like, ‘OK, we have to do what we do well. We just had to take a step back and honestly, that was maybe one of the better things that could happen to us is just, not a wake-up call but just a little bit like, ‘Oh boy, you’ve got to perform.’ So I think every aspect of our game — our passing, our serving, our offense, our blocking — got better as the night went on. I told them not to panic and that’s why we play three out of five, knowing that we had a lot more to offer.”
Wohlgemuth scored six of her team-high 14 kills in the first set and also added a pair of aces. She’s leading the Warriors with 4.2 kills per set on .326 hitting this season.
“She’s led in a lot of areas and categories on this team,” Lutheran coach Sue Ziegler said. “She’s one of our senior leaders. She stepped up, kind of took Abby Wachal’s place last year, and she loves being that leader. So I think that’s what you’re seeing out there is her giving her 100% in everything that she’s doing on the court. She wants to win, she wants her team to be the best that we can be, and so she takes care of her job.”
Norris got off to a much better start in set two then blew the game open with a 9-2 run to extend its lead to 13-5. The Warriors cut the deficit down to five a few times but could get no closer as Celia Spilker closed out the set with a kill and a block for the Titans.
After a great first set both offensively and defensively, Lutheran fell into a rut in set two and couldn’t climb out of it.
“You look back at the stats and everything was there, hitting percentage was there,” Ziegler said. “Our serving, even though we missed a few of them, we had some aces in there. We were keeping them kind of out of system, a little off guard, made them kind of readjust, which I think they probably did a good job of. Then we faltered a little bit in the second set. We just couldn’t get that momentum going and we got behind. It’s just hard to play when you’re always trying to make that big comeback.”
Lutheran fell behind early in set three as well as Norris won five of the first six rallies then continued to extend the lead the rest of the way. Norris gave the Warriors fits from the service line all set long and Boesiger closed it out with one of her four aces. The Titans finished with eight aces as a team.
“I felt like we really put the pressure on their passers,” Coach Boesiger said. “They were definitely hitting their zones and they were going for it. Malorie was back there serving BBs at them. I think that’s the strength of our game too, is to get teams out of system so then we get a free ball or roll shot back and we can run our fast offense. So they understand the importance of that, taking the other teams out of their offense.”
Lutheran’s struggles continued into the fourth set. Norris used a 4-0 run early to take the lead then ripped off a 9-0 run featuring Boesiger at the service line to open up an 18-7 advantage, and the Titans cruised to the finish from there. Freshman Alli Bornschlegl stepped up and added seven kills on .294 hitting off the bench in the last two sets.
“She was awesome to come in,” Coach Boesiger said. “We were talking about the depth of our hitters that we have on our team and she came in fearless and got a handful kills for us the last couple sets and did a great job.”
The Warriors took some big swigs in the third and fourth sets, but the Titans refused to let balls go down and made some fantastic defensive plays, both with block touches and highlight-reel digs.
“We had to reset and reset, and I talked to them about it in the locker room: it can wear you down,” Ziegler said. :And as much as we say, ‘OK, we’ll figure it out, we’ll figure it out.’ there were three, four, five times in a row that they had that big block up there and we were trying to figure out where we should probably try next. Sometimes we were trying to get too crafty and then might send it out of bounds, go wide, long. So those types of things can happen, but I still think that playing a team like Norris right before we head into our postseason play is always so beneficial. Win or lose, we’re still going to take something away from it.”
The Warriors haven’t done much losing. In fact, they suffered their first defeat since the 2021 season on Oct. 7, falling 2-1 to Kearney Catholic in the Centennial Conference Tournament championship. That snapped a 74-match winning streak for the Warriors, the two-time reigning C2 state champion.
Zeigler said the Warriors bounced back well from the loss, sweeping their way through last weekend’s Lincoln Christian Tournament, and now they’ll have to do the same heading into the postseason.
“We just don’t dwell on the loss and we move on and focus on what we can do versus what we didn’t get done,” Ziegler said. “And they appreciate that, never getting too down about it, but wanting to come back. So they did that at the Lincoln Christian tournament. When you play a team like Wahoo three times in a row, that’s always tough, but they were resilient, didn’t drop a set there, and when we came out here, you just hope that the fire keeps going and that you stay on top. It wasn’t for lack of effort, we just made some unforced errors in kind of critical times, and then we got ourselves in a hole.”
While the regular season is over for the Warriors at 30-2, Norris (28-3) still has one more regular season match remaining as the Titans will head to Crete on Thursday. Boesiger said she’s “feeling great” as the Titans prepare to head into the postseason.
“It’s been a great, fast, crazy season but I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction,” She said. “It’s just really fun to see all the pieces kind of fall into place and when we’re passing well, our offense is really fast and we can go to any hitter and so hopefully that will be helping us down the road.”