A loss in district play usually isn’t considered a positive heading into the state volleyball tournament, but Omaha Gross coach Kelly Gjoca said that may be the case with her Cougars.
“I think that loss was a wakeup call for us,” she said. “We lost to a team that was more motivated than we were, so that’s a big lesson to learn going to state.”
The Cougars, ranked No. 1 in Class B much of the season, fell to No. 2 after losing to Omaha Skutt last week at districts. Gross (26-4) still snagged a wild-card berth and will play Gretna in a first-round match at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island.
“We didn’t really want to get in on a wild card, but we’ll take it,” Gjoca said. “Just so we’re going to state, that’s the main thing.”
Gross entered the postseason riding the momentum of a victory over Omaha Skutt in the River Cities Conference final, but the SkyHawks got their revenge three days later. Skutt beat the Cougars in the competitive District B-1, then the SkyHawks fell to Gretna in the district final.
“It was tough mentally to play Skutt again right after conference,” Gjoca said. “They came in with the mentality that they had nothing to lose and they took it to us that night.”
Gjoca and several of her players attended that district final, though watching from the grandstand wasn’t what the Cougars had in mind.
“It kind of felt like a punishment to sit and watch,” she said. “But again, I think that’s something that we can learn from.”
Gjoca said that district, which featured four ranked teams, will be good preparation for this week.
“That was a real battle,” she said. “It’s too bad that a team like Skutt didn’t make it to state because it definitely deserved to go.”
Gjoca is no stranger to the state tournament. The former Kelly Goc helped Ralston reach the tourney during her senior year in 2003 and she guided Gross to state last year in her first season as head coach.
“The fact we went to the tournament last year is huge,” she said. “We’ve got everyone back from that team and I think that experience is going to be really valuable for us.”
The Cougars have four players with more than 100 kills — Shelby Mlynczak (253), Alex Opperman (211), Joelle Overkamp (150) and Tahlyr Banks (135). Setter Ellie Targy has dished out 679 assists while libero Julie Olechoski has 355 digs.
Gjoca said Grand Island Northwest, which has finished as the Class B runner-up the past five years, deserves the favorite’s role at state. But she likes the way her team has responded from last week’s setback and she expects a revitalized squad to take the floor Thursday night.
“I think that loss took a lot of pressure off of us,” the coach said. “Someone else can have the target on their back.”
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