By Walter Villa
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. –- When you’ve won 81 matches in a row and are No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings for the second consecutive year, there’s not much left to prove.
But that’s not the feeling at Papillion-La Vista South (Papillion, Neb.).
Playing with a chip on their shoulders, the Titans beat No. 42 Marian (Omaha, Neb.) 28-26, 25-19, 25-18 and advanced to Saturday’s Class A state final against Burke (Omaha, Neb.).
The Titans (40-0) had dropped two sets to Marian earlier this season.
“Beating Marian was very emotional for us,” said Titans setter Kelly Hunter, clutching some Dum Dums candy given to her by her uncle. “A lot of our players weren’t happy with the way we played Marian last time.”
The Titans nearly had some more things to dislike on Friday. They fell behind 3-0 in the first set before going on an 11-2 run. Marian battled back to tie the score at 17-17 before the Titans took a seemingly secure 23-18 lead.
But Marian (33-9) wouldn’t go down easy. It had set point at 24-23 and again at 26-25. A block by Kadie Rolfzen saved the Titans on the first set point, and twin sister Amber got the kill to keep the match alive on the second one.
“We were a little tight the first set,” Titans coach Gwen Egbert said. “But we worked through it. Our kids were very motivated. We wanted to send a message.”
Added Hunter: “The first set is always big because it can swing the momentum for the rest of the match.”
Marian continued to battle in the second set. The score was tied 9-9 before the Titans pulled away.
The third set was the easiest for the Titans and was the only one in which they never trailed.
Marian coach Rochelle Rohlfs was upbeat after the loss because of her team’s stellar effort, but she couldn’t help but think the turning point came early.
“That would’ve been critical if we could have gotten that first set,” she said. “It would have energized us, and I thought that was a big difference.
“But, otherwise, we fought. We had a hard time getting the ball to our middles, and they had a balanced attack.”
For the Titans, Kadie Rolfzen had a game-high 17 kills, Amber Rolfzen led the team with 19 digs, and Whitney Kostal (20) and Hunter (18) led in assists.
For Marian, libero and Creighton recruit Katlynn Elman was impressive, digging a game-high 24 balls, many of them in spectacular fashion. Creighton recruit Ashley Jansen had a game-high 25 assists, and Lexi Elman – Katlynn’s younger sister – led the team with 10 kills. Maggie Heim, an Ohio State recruit, added seven kills.
“Their libero,” Egbert said, “was outstanding.”
Elman said her assignment on Friday was huge.
“Oh my goodness, it’s so much fun trying to dig (the twins), and I love competing against them,” she said. “They usually find where our blockers leave that split. That’s when I do my thing.”
Elman said the twins’ blistering spikes “sting a little bit” but she doesn’t really feel the pain because she’s caught up in the action.
She said the loss stung more, but she is consoled by her opinion of her team.
“There’s no doubt we’re the second best team in the state,” she said. “No question.”
A big reason why many neutral observes share that opinion is this: Marian is the only team in the state to take a set from the Titans.
In Saturday’s final, the Titans will face a 32-6 Burke team they have swept in three matches this season. Egbert, though, didn’t see a problem coming back strong for the title game.
“It’s the state championship,” she said. “If you can’t get up for the state final, you’ve got a problem.”