The Nebraska Elite 15 Hakai is one of just a few Great Plains Regional teams to medal in three qualifying tournaments.
Now, if that would just lead to a first-place finish at the USA Volleyball girls junior national championships.
“My teammates and I really want to succeed at nationals, and we're going to work our hardest to do that,” said setter Ashley Knight, who will be a sophomore at Elkhorn South.
The Hakai had been playing against 17- and 18-year-old squads, so they decided to participate in multiple qualifiers to prepare better for their 15-year-old age group at nationals.
That gave them a good idea of the level of competition they'll face June 28 to July 7 in Columbus, Ohio. A total of 816 teams have qualified.
The Hakai finished second at the Mid-East qualifier in Indianapolis and the Northern Lights qualifier in Minneapolis in the spring. They were third in the northeast qualifier in Washington, D.C.
Knight said the winners of those tournaments stayed aggressive until the end, which is something the Hakai have been focusing on since.
“We've just been working on a few key elements that we've seen through qualifying,” Knight said. “One of them is defense and working on playing every ball. Just focusing on those little details so we can improve our technique for game situations.”
The Hakai are one of 21 teams from the Great Plains Regional headed to nationals. That's down from the usual 25 to 30.
Five teams from the Nebraska Elite club will be there: the Thunder (13), the Havoc (14), the Arsenal (16), Au (17) and Hakai advanced. The Avengers (16) and Evolution (14) didn't qualify and will compete instead at the AAU national championships in Orlando, Fla.
The Havoc were third last year and Au were 10th.
Hakai has finished third twice at nationals, including last summer, and Knight said they have to find a way to push through to the end.
“My coach always says, it's not the most skilled people at nationals who win,” Knight said. “It's the group of girls who come together and play together and respond together the best that is the team that's going to win nationals. And work the hardest.”
Coach and club director Tony Carrow said the Hakai are a hard-working bunch with some great athletes. The starting six all have an attack height of 9-foot-6 or taller. He said they are also good servers and good defensively.
“Everybody has a role and everybody plays every set,” he said.
One downside to playing in three qualifiers is that teams become familiar with your style of play.
“We've been getting better defensively and changing offensive patterns, so we have some more options,” Carrow said. “We had to come up with some new wrinkles.”
Sara Abbott, Papillion-La Vista South; Maddy Bruder, Norris; Kayli Grant, Millard North; Jamie Hauptman, Millard South; Monica Hruby, Omaha Skutt; Ashley Knight, Elkhorn South; Claire Knust, Omaha Skutt; Kira Shapiro, Millard West; Katie Stephens, Papillion-La Vista; Megan Wickey, Omaha Concordia; Olivia Wolodkewitsch, Omaha Marian.
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