HLHF Volleyball: All part of the plan
A season that has included 27 wins, a consistent top-10 ranking and tremendous promise saw that promise realized on Saturday when Class D-1 No. 4 Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family defeated Elgin/Pope John in a three-set sweep for a district title.
The victory, in a match played at Boone Central/Newman Grove High School, earned the Bulldogs their second-ever trip to state as a combined program following an appearance in 2013.
HLHF made relatively quick work of EPJ, not allowing the Wolfpack to score more than 17 points in any set in a 25-15, 25-17, 25-17 final score.
Taya Beller dominated at the net with a match-high 15 kills, the Bulldogs outhit the Wolfpack 30-20 in kills, served 10 aces compared to just three and had five players with double-digit digs.
The win made it four in a row for Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family following an automatic qualification into the district final round with a sub-district title.
The Bulldogs took down Fullerton in straight sets on Oct. 29 then picked up the sub-district tournament win in a 3-1 victory the following night over Nebraska Christian.
“I thought we overall played at a level we needed to in order to get the win. It wasn’t our best game, but it wasn’t our worst,” coach Cami Oelsligle said in comments sent to The Telegram.
“Our defense started out shaky, but our nerves settled and we picked it up a bit. We didn’t have many really solid hardwood kills, but we didn’t need them. Our consistency on defense and aggressive offense were what we needed to win.”
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family led mostly wire-to-wire in every set though it was often close early on. The Bulldogs typically pulled away in the middle of the set once they reached the 13-point mark.
Elgin/Pope John had one final surge in the third set, but again, HLHF eventually took control and won the set by eight points.
The win was a culmination of talent, hard work and some lofty expectations Oelsligle had for her group before the year even began.
“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but I knew we had the potential to be in the postseason. I don’t think any coach in the state of Nebraska goes out starting fall practices hoping that their season ends early. So yes, I wanted to be in this position, and I knew it was possible,” she said.
Oelsligle even went so far as to tell her group they had the potential to finish unbeaten. They weren’t exactly perfect, but the four losses included Class C-1 Central City, Class C-1 Aquinas, Class C-2 No. 10 Battle Creek and Class C-2 No. 1 Stanton.
The season though didn’t exactly get off on the right foot.
“It’s a nightmare for us to remember, but our jamboree match versus Stanton and Crofton was a turning point for our girls,” Oelsligle said. “We hadn’t started any competition yet, but we had been into a week or two of practice. We really weren’t clicking as a team.”
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family used that wakeup call to win its first 17 matches of the season before a loss to Aquinas.
The Bulldogs took down the Monarchs at the Clarkson Invite on Sept. 29 in the first set 26-24 before losing 25-15 and 25-22.
Following the loss was a rematch with Chambers/Wheeler Central, a D-2 state tournament team, n the very next match. With no time to feel sorry for itself, HLFH dominated the game defensively and bounced back in a 25-17, 26-24 win.
Though the Bulldogs had fewer kills, they also had 39 more digs than the Renegades.
The match against Stanton, though also a loss, was another turning point according to Oelsligle.
“We took the first set and were in position to win the fourth,” she remembered. “No matter the overall outcome, this proved to the girls that they were right – they could hang with some of the best competition no matter which class.”
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family has the chance to prove that for good starting on Thursday at Lincoln East in a 5:30 p.m. matchup with Diller-Odell. The Griffins come in at 26-7, ranked No. 6 by the Lincoln Journal Star and as the No. 6 seed.
“We are focusing on making sure our fundamentals are crisp and ready for any kind of situation that comes our way,” Oelsligle said. “We are passing a lot, serving a lot, attacking smart and getting a lot of repetitions together.”
A win earns the Bulldogs a match Friday at 11 a.m. against the winner of Cambridge (25-5) and Johnson-Brock (29-3) at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Class D-1 state title match is Saturday at the Bob Devaney Center at 11 a.m.
“The girls have wanted to make history all year long. Actually, they’ve wanted to make it since they were in elementary school,” Oelsligle said. “This has been a goal they have been working towards for quite some time.
“It has been a while since there has been a team at state. We fell just short last year, and it makes the girls even more determined to get there. We are hoping and working towards being the first HLFH team to bring home some hardware.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org