Fifth Set Is The Charm

Volleyball team rises as the underdogs to claim the State title

Fifth Set Is The Charm

@Doug Carroll

Kate Smith, Staff Writer

A sharp intake of breath in the stadium, the widening of eyes as viewers watch live on their screens at home. Everyone’s focus is on the hand of senior Elise Baumann as she makes contact with the ball. It sails past the block and ricochets off the arm of a defender, finally landing with a thud on the ground. The crowd erupts.

“It was electric. You could feel everything…the excitement, the unknown, maybe the nervous energy,” Head Coach Lindsay Peterson said.

The final match was played on the Husker’s stage, under the bright lights of the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Coaches, players, and fans alike were buzzing with intensity, waiting to see if the Mustangs would best the Papio South Titans.

“When they were introducing us, everyone on our side was going crazy and jumping up and down. It was weird to think that we were playing in Devaney and they were all there to watch us,” senior Madison Johnson said.

Perhaps the atmosphere was too overwhelming because once the match began, the Mustangs were just not on top of their game; they lost the first set 15-25. They pulled their game together better in the second set, but still fell short at 21-25.

“It was very chaotic the first two sets. We came in not really prepared for the State final, and I think that our nerves and everything were just too overwhelming to play our game,” junior Megan Hanson said.

After the rough start, Coach Peterson pulled the two seniors, Johnson and Baumann, aside, and reminded them of their responsibilities as the leaders. Giving this third set to the Titans would mean saving the Championship title for another year, after an already 29-year-long dry spell.

“I told them that as seniors and captains, they couldn’t just be verbal leaders. At that point, they had to lead by example—take care of the ball, be the aggressor. Once those two got going, everyone followed suit,” Peterson said.

The drive, determination, and power that was brought to the court by Johnson and Baumann in the next set fueled the fire in their younger teammates, and gave them the energy they needed to fight for the trophy alongside the seniors.

“We had faith in them [the seniors], and wanted to have the State Championship for them. We played for each other. We were not giving up, it wasn’t over yet. We play five sets for a reason,” sophomore Emma Grunkemeyer said.

Their effort paid off. The Mustangs won sets three and four, 25-18 and 25-21, and were not about to let the win slip through their fingertips in set five.

The first match point brought a very controversial call. Having to win by two, the Mustangs were one point away from the state title. Hanson was back behind the serving line, hoping for an ace. The ball was already in the air when she noticed a spare ball rolling towards her. She caught the serve. Point Titans.

“I knew I had to fight the call, but in the same breath I knew that I had to be composed. My players needed to see that it was going to be okay, and that we could still win the match if they stayed composed, too,” Peterson said.

According to the 2016-17 NFHS Volleyball Rulebook, ‘A re-serve shall be called when the server releases the ball for service, then catches it or drops it to the floor.’ The call was wrong but it was not reversed.

Despite this setback, the Mustangs continued a tenacious power struggle in the last few plays, and after a total of four more match points, the match was finally ended with a kill from the palm of Baumann.

“Even on the bench, we were all so excited and ran in and hugged the team. We were ‘tears of joy’ excited,” freshman Eve Fountain said.

In that moment, all the stress of the final match evaporated and the players could bask in all the successes of their season.

“If you work hard enough and hold yourself accountable, you can do anything you put your mind to. My players did that; they weathered all the storms, the ups and the downs, and they came out on top,” Peterson said.

They had arrived in Lincoln days before as unlikely candidates for the final match, but they left as champions, with the State trophy hoisted on their shoulders.