YORK — It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
For the Dukes and the state volleyball tournament, it is absence no longer.
The York Dukes will pack up 12 players who have a lot of heart and head to Grand Island Senior High to meet top seeded Northwest High School on Thursday at 11 a.m.
The Vikings (32-2) will enter the match as a prohibitive favorite with wins in its past 25 matches to include a sweep over the Dukes three weeks ago. In their long winning string, the Vikings have won 58 consecutive sets.
In short, the odds are against the Dukes.
However, post-season matches at the district and state level are not won by paper comparisons. If that were the case, Seward, a highly ranked Class B team, would have been handed the B-4 winning plaque before play began last week.
Instead, the Dukes brought the trophy home to York High.
Heading into the B-4 District, the Dukes had a record of 13-14. However, York put it all together at the right time and closed out with two consecutive wins over Crete and a hard-fought battle and victory over its rival, Seward.
At state, the Dukes will throw out the records and concentrate on their opponent across the net just as they did against Seward.
York coach Kayla Makovicka was asked about the daunting task of facing Northwest which is making its 12th straight appearance in the Class B tournament.
“We will not be talking about the past successes of Northwest,” Makovicka said. “ I can tell by my players' determination and desire to come to practice for three more days that they want another win.”
In 1989 when York last went to the state tourney, Chris Holder was the Dukes' head coach. At that time George Herbert Walker Bush was the president, Makovicka was two years away from kindergarten, and all of the players were five to seven years from being born.
At that state tournament, the Dukes beat Grand Island Central Catholic in the first round before losing to Ainsworth.
Holder was asked about the significance of playing at state.
“I think participating in the state tournament is something that, when you have the opportunity to experience first hand and be part of the atmosphere and represent your school and your town, is one of those things you will NEVER forget,” Holder said. Winning districts, preparing during the week and competing in the state tournament will be a lifelong memory for these athletes, coaches and the parents.”
To get to the state tourney, the Dukes developed a game plan and carried it out to perfection against Seward. Even though the Dukes lost two earlier matches to the Lady Jays, the experience they gained had a marked impact on their confidence. Finally, their teamwork, acquired skills and will to win appeared last Thursday when the Dukes won a grueling, winner-take-all match with a state berth on the line.
Holder, who was cheering for the Dukes at both district matches, was asked how she felt when the final point was scored.
“I am always happy when any York High sport or activity achieves a high level of success because these kids are my adopted family,” the former Duke coach said. “When the final point was scored though, I was so darn happy for them and for our school that those same giddy feelings (like she had when coaching) came back. I am so happy for the girls and the coaching staff that they will have a lifetime of memories to share when they see each other from time to time to 'remember when'.”
Each of the Duke players was asked for one word that described the feeling they had when the victory had been sealed.
After some thought, each came up with a word that summed up the district experience and included the following: “Accomplishment,” “State,” “Heart,” “Speechless,” “Victory,” “Deserving,” “Pride,” “Excitement,” “Determined,” “Pumped,” “Shocking” and “Finally!”
Makovicka, too, was asked for her one-word theme.
“Proud,” the coach answered without hesitation.
“I have never seen them fight so hard — point for point — than that night. Winning the third set 30-28, after having been down 24-22, was the point where we gained a lot of confidence and knew we had to finish, a word that has been kind of a motto for our season. It's something you can't practice. It's just something you have to believe you can do and what a perfect time to start living by it.”
Following Monday's film session which reviewed a set of the earlier match with Northwest, the Dukes took the floor to work on their game plan for the Vikings.
What do the Dukes have to do to be successful against Northwest?
“We have to be prepared,” Makovicka said. “That was our main strength during the district tournament, and it seemed to help us a lot. We will practice on those things we need to stop and that still require a little improvement.”
Obviously the talented Vikings have strengths and key players who require attention.
“They have great team chemistry and work well together,” Makovicka said of the Vikings. “I believe defense is their strong point; and last time, we had a hard time finding open spots.
“Rather than keying on individuals, we will prepare for them as a team which is different from our normal plan. Usually, we can key in on one or two, but I don't think that will be a smart decision in this case.”
Heading into the state tourney, Makovicka provided a statistical summary for each of her players. However, what stood out most were the coach's comments about the leadership provided by her seniors who include: Liz Harlow, Erica Koehler, Aleah Rosenau, Sarah Stephens, Olivia Stubbs and Delaney Woods.
“I couldn't have asked for better,” Makovicka said. “That is one of the many reasons for our team's success. We don't have any problems off the court, and that leaves us a lot of time to focus on the drills at practice.
“They are very coachable and approachable and know what it takes to be successful on the court.”
Looking up to those seniors and hoping to sustain this year's success are underclassmen: Caitlin Gillham, Erin Malleck, Emily Meisinger, Kati Pieper, Dacia Stuhr and McKenzie Tonniges.
The Dukes heading to state in volleyball, make it a clean sweep for York High as all seven fall sports teams qualified for state post-season appearances.