GRAND ISLAND — Lincoln Christian kept pace with Kearney Catholic for the first half the three sets, but the top-ranked Stars calmly pulled away in each for a 25-18, 25-19, 25-14 victory Friday night and a spot in the Class C1 state championship match at the Heartland Events Center.
KCHS will take on Columbus Scotus at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year’s state championship game. Scotus squeaked out a 5-set win over the Stars last season, prompting Kearney Catholic set a new goal that is one win away from fruition.
“The kids are looking forward to playing (Scotus),” KCHS coach Kris Conner said. “It’s always a great matchup with them and tomorrow won’t be any different.”
Lincoln Christian hung around through the first two sets Friday night against the Stars, pulling within 17-15 during both, but KCHS closed things out on runs of 8-3 and 8-4, respectively. The Crusaders watched their 5-0 lead in the second set vanish thanks to a pair of Michaela Mestl kills and three ace serves from Morgan Stute.
“It seems like most of our matches we play everyone even until about 10,” Conner said. “So we never get too rattled, even if we’re down early.”
That wasn’t the case in the third set as the Stars jumped out to a 7-1 lead en route to the match win.
Megan Anderson and Bailey Sokolowski led the Kearney Catholic attack with 11 kills apiece. Mestl added 10 kills while Shayla Conner dished out 36 assists.
“They’ve got lots of weapons. Their bigs are big,” Lincoln Christian coach Vikki Power said. “I thought we played really well to the 15th point, but they’d pull away and that was the difference.”
The Crusaders were able to find some success with their serve and attack placement, but Kearney Catholic was able to adjust and take control.
Alayna Kavanaugh and Bailey Friesen both put down six kills for Lincoln Christian while Michaela Bubak finished with four kills and seven ace blocks. Hannah Taylor dished out 17 assists.
Lincoln Christian faces Ogallala in the consolation game.
“We’re soaking it in,” Power said. “We don’t always get to be here. We came to play, so you might as well play three days.”
Kearney Catholic meanwhile will look to sure up a few things for the C1 title match.
“Our timing wasn’t as crisp as what it has been,” Conner said. “We just didn’t have a lot of great connections, and we were a little inconsistent in the block game.”
Conner knows that they’ll pay for any mistakes they make against Scotus.
“They always serve lights out and serve you deep,” she said. “They do a good job of moving you around, but we’ve got the best serve receivers we’ve probably ever had.”
The Stars (35-0) have the tools, but they haven’t bought the hype, just yet.
“We’ve always talked about records meaning nothing when you get into the state tournament,” Conner said. “It doesn’t get you anywhere when the game starts.”
Kearney Catholic (35-0) ................. 25 25 25
Lincoln Christian (27-5) ................. 18 19 14
KC (kills-aces-blocks): Micahaela Mestl 10-1-2, Kalyn Brannagan 5-0-0, Morgan Stute 1-4-0, Shayla Conner 2-0-1, Bailey Sokolowski 11-0-3, Therin Baum 2-1-0, Megan Anderson 11-0-2.
LC: Hannah Taylor 2-0-1, Jenna Humphrey 2-0-1, Bailey Friesen 6-0-1, Taylor Workman 2-0-0, Alayna Kavanaugh 6-3-1, Michaela Bubak 4-0-7, Esther Kelley 1-0-0).
Set assists: KC 40 (Conner 36, Stute 2, Baum 1, Whitney Colling 1); LC 19 (Taylor 17, Kavanaugh 1, Kelley 1).