GRAND ISLAND – It's certain the Howells/Dodge coaches are making very sure their team does not look past the No. 6 seed Exeter-Milligan Timberwolves as the two teams open Class D-1 State Volleyball Tournament action Thursday.
Exeter-Milligan won state championships in both 2009 and 2010 at the expense of the Howells Bobcats, who are now a co-op with Dodge for the first season and go by the name Jaguars.
Howells/Dodge comes in the state tournament with a 28-3 record, while the Exeter-Milligan girls are 27-4 and have a five-game win string including victories over Heartland and BDS in the subdistrict and Pawnee City in the district final. Ever since the Timberwolves lost to Giltner in the Crossroads Conference semifinals they have strung together five consecutive wins.
The game will be played at GICC High School and will get underway at 9 a.m.
Head coach Darcy White said it was about the mental approach.
“We just talked about playing with more emotion. For the seniors, it's about making the most of their time together since our season is quickly coming to an end. I think we were so busy playing matches that we didn't really focus on any one thing in particular because it was always, play a match, get ready for the next one,” said White. “We lost a few matches early in the season, and then went on a long winning streak until conference. It was a real eye opener when we lost to Giltner. It was more, 'What are our goals for the season?' I just told the girls they would be really disappointed if we didn't at least give ourselves a chance to get back to state, and they just got together and made up their minds that they were going to do everything in their power to make that happen.”
While the two teams did not play this year, White said they are familiar with Howells/Dodge from summer play.
“Howells/Dodge is a very tall and athletic team. We saw them at team camp this summer, and played them closely, but we were playing without Jackie (Luzum) at the time,” White explained. “The keys for us being successful this weekend will be if we can ball control well, serve aggressively and maintain our intensity throughout each match.”
White said the team is playing with confidence and that while they have only 10 girls on the squad, they do have a very good bench.
“Our bench has played a huge role all season. We have 10 available players on the team, and nine of them have played all year. They each have a job to do each night, and they each know what is expected of them,” White explained. “This group of girls is probably one of the most overachieving groups of girls I have coached. We have continued to improve throughout the season and that is a testament to their work ethic. With only 10 girls on the team, they recognize the importance of teamwork. They don't miss practices because they know that it's difficult to practice if even one of them is missing. They know that I will be happy no matter the outcome if they play to their potential."
White added that this group of girls wants to add to the Timberwolves' trophy case.
“We just take it in stride. After last week, I think the girls have their confidence back. They realize we are going in as the underdogs, but if we play our game, we will be successful. They want to add to the banners we already have hanging in the gym.”
White also gave a lot of credit to the Exeter-Milligan fan base and said they were a big part of the team's success.
“I want to say that we have the greatest parents, grandparents and fans around! Thanks for all your support throughout the season.”
With a win the T-Wolves' second round game would be at 6:30 p.m. Friday night at Grand Island Senior High School.
All championship finals will be played at the Heartland Events Center on Saturday.