There may have been a fair share of struggles to start the season, as a few disappointing losses kept the Omaha Marian volleyball team down.
However, the Class A No. 4 Crusaders have turned those issues around, shown by a perfect 6-0 weekend and first-place finish at the Lincoln Northeast Invite.
Early in the season, Marian took care of business against mid-level teams, but struggled against the best teams in Class A. Losses to the likes of Papillion-La Vista, Elkhorn South, Lincoln Pius X and Millard North were difficult, and the team suffered yet another tough loss last Thursday, falling in five sets to Millard West.
After losing the match by just two points, Marian coach Amy McLeay said the team met briefly, and the next day the players identified three things they wanted to address and improve on moving forward.
“When you lose, you learn a lot about yourselves,” McLeay said. “Every time we’ve tried to use some of those opportunities to create our new practice plan or revise our process so when we come to the gym, we have a plan.”
The Crusaders worked on creating stressful situations in practice to mimic close set points, hoping to avoid another close defeat. On Friday, that training paid off almost immediately as Marian upset No. 2 Elkhorn South 2-1, narrowly winning the three-set victory by three points.
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“Coming into that, having known that they (Elkhorn South) beat us two times already, we knew that we had to come out even stronger than before,” senior Payton Kirchhoefer said. “We knew their tendencies and we used that to our advantage.”
Marian carried the momentum of the big win into Saturday’s tournament play, defeating Waverly, Lincoln Southeast and Millard South to claim first place in the Lincoln Northeast Invite. It was a big weekend for Kirchhoefer, who along with Kate Kilzer, has had to replace the production of graduated players Emily Bressman and Hailey Zuroske.
“Having such great role models in Bressman and Hailey really helped me get into the position faster because I was looking to them all last season and they really helped me with that,” Kirchhoefer said.
Fortunately for the Crusaders, they may be playing their best volleyball at the right time. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier this week, with a home match against No. 6 Gretna on Tuesday before they take on No. 1 Papillion-La Vista and No. 5 Pius X on Thursday.
“We’re finally starting to play together as a team,” Kirchhoefer said. “We’re really hitting a peak in the middle of the season heading into a really rough schedule for October.”