GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — After a long run as a perennial power in Class B, Lincoln Pius X coach Jake Moore said his team is relishing playing the underdog role in the Class A state tournament.
The No. 8 Thunderbolts certainly looked right at home in Class A on Thursday, avenging an earlier defeat this season with a 25-17, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21 victory over No. 6 Lincoln Southeast in first-round state tournament action at the Heartland Events Center.
“It's huge for us and huge for our program because we've been in Class B for the last 20 years,” Moore said. “We thought we belonged (in Class A) all year, but we hadn't won a match against any of the Class A teams that were actually in the state tournament, so this is huge for us.”
Huge, but not surprising, Moore said. For Pius (28-11) — winners of the Class B state championships in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 — it marks the program's 10th consecutive appearance in the state semifinals.
“At Pius, we're not ever surprised because we talk about tradition and it doesn't matter that we graduated six fabulous seniors last year,” Moore said. “For the girls who came back, this was there goal. They were going to continue the tradition on — no matter what class.”
Kristy Wieser (16 kills), Ashley Witt (14) and Kennedy Hegert (10) led the Pius attack. Anne Bachmann had 17 assists, Sara Boothe had 15 assists and Maggie Kopf finished with 14 digs for the Thunderbolts, who were swept 3-0 by Southeast on Sept. 29 in the Lincoln Northeast Invitational.
“We were ugly,” Moore said of his team's previous performance against the Knights. “So there was a lot of redemption today.”
Pius spent eight days preparing exclusively for Southeast. The Thunderbolts installed a completely new defense, switching from what Moore described as a “perimeter” to a “rotation” scheme.
Southeast (27-9) got 14 kills from Taylor Lewis, 12 kills from Sydney Taylor and 11 kills from Kinslie TeKolste. Kylee Wurster added a match-high 38 assists and Dani Kostal led the Knights with 18 digs.
“The nerves got the best of us here, plain and simple,” said Southeast coach Annie Rice-Healey, whose team hit .184. “At a level like this and playing against a team like Pius, you can't give them any points and we gave them those first two sets. It's hard to come back from a 2-0 deficit.”
Pius advanced to face second-rated Omaha Marian (37-4) in Friday's 11 a.m. semifinal at the Heartland Events Center. The Thunderbolts are 0-3 against the Crusaders this season — a fact Moore said should have his team playing loose on Friday.
“We're the new kids on the block,” Moore said. “We're going to take whatever we can get. Hopefully, as you saw today, we have a whole lot of fight in us.
“We haven't been the underdog in umpteen years and we talked about it today when we practiced: We're the underdog and we have nothing to lose.”
Lincoln Pius X (28-11)...............................25 25 23 25
At Lincoln Southeast (27-9).........................17 23 25 21
LPX (kills-aces-blocks): Alexa Birkel 0-0-0, Alyssa Thavenet 0-0-1, Anne Bachmann 2-0-0, Ashley Witt 14-0-0, Kaitlin Van Loon 3-0-1, Kennedy Hegert 10-0-0, Kristy Wieser 16-1-1, Maddi Essay 3-0-0, Maggie Kopf 0-1-0, Sara Boothe 0-0-0, Sarah Lewandowski 0-0-0, Sydney Townsend 0-1-0. Totals 48-3-3.
LSE: Brooke Lattimer 4-0-2, Carly Rediger 0-0-0, Dani Kostal 0-2-0, Kinslie TeKolste 11-0-1, Kylee Wurster 1-1-0, Sydney Taylor 12-0-0, Taylor Lewis 14-0-0, Tyra Douglas 6-1-1. Totals 48-4-4.
Set assists: LPX 36 (Bachmann 17, Boothe 15, Kopf 2, Wieser 1, Townsend 1); LSE 41 (Wurster 38, Kostal 2, TeKolste 1).