It has been nearly a season since Lincoln Pius X lost a five-set opening-round match in the 2017 state volleyball tournament. It was a difficult loss to handle at the moment for the young team, but in the defeat a new hope rose. The Thunderbolts knew they’d get another chance in 2018.
Of course, with so much talent returning for their senior seasons, the expectations of the now veteran-laden roster was high. But the pressure of those expectations did little to slow down the product on the floor.
The Thunderbolts have rattled off 25 straight victories, currently one of the longest win streaks in the state, as they enter the state tournament. The success all starts with the bond of this group of seniors.
“This group is so close, I don’t think I’ve ever been around a team that has more of a connection than we have,” senior Delaney Humm said. “It’s been so fun to be a senior on this team because we have so much experience together and it’s led to a lot of great results this season.”
Teams hope to have a few senior leaders this time of the season, but when it comes to Pius X, it’s hard to find a position where the Thunderbolts don’t have an upperclassman putting up eye-catching stats. Opponents have had a hard time finding a weakness against the Thunderbolts, and the numbers back it up.
Humm and fellow senior Anna McLain both have more than 270 kills this season, and Morgan Christiansen sits at 172 while playing imposing defense. Setter Grace Gokie, also a senior, is just six assists away from 1,000 this season, distributing the ball to her collection of skilled hitters impartially and with purpose.
“These kids are just so knowledgeable and disciplined that it’s allowed us to throw a lot of different things at them and they’re always open to it,” Pius X coach Katie Wenz said. “They want to try new things and they want us to push them, so they’ve been great to work with creatively. They knew they had a lot of potential and they’ve really persevered through the expectations.”
If opposing offenses think there’s a chance to counter against the high-powered Pius X offense, the Thunderbolts have yet another senior to fill that role. Libero Emma Gabel, a future Nebraska volleyball walk-on, has a team-leading 512 digs and has paired that with 24 ace serves to make her mark on offense.
“Our experience this season has been the key to our success. We consistently have five seniors on the court at any time, so there’s always someone to turn to when we need anything,” McLain said. “We don’t shut down because we’ve all helped each other at some point during the season. We have a team full of leaders and it has given us a lot of confidence on the court.”
The last time the Class A state title was claimed by a Lincoln team was 1998, before any of these Thunderbolts were born, but Pius X has one of the city’s best chances in years behind this group of seniors.
Their quest to end the streak begins Thursday in the opening game of the Class A bracket at 1:30 p.m. against Millard South. Pinnacle Bank Arena will host all of the Class A quarterfinals and semifinals this year.