GRAND ISLAND — After being pushed to five sets by Grand Island in the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals two days earlier, the Lincoln Southwest volleyball team’s goal Thursday was to win more efficiently.
The Class A No. 7 Silver Hawks achieved that objective, using strong serving and passing to post a 25-20, 25-13, 27-25 victory against No. 8 Lincoln Southeast to defend their conference tournament title.
“We wanted to prove to people that we can win in three sets,” said junior setter/outside hitter Rachel Walker, who had nine kills and 20 assists to help the Silver Hawks (21-11) post their third win against Southeast in as many meetings this fall. The last win vs. the Knights was in five sets, including 16-14 in the decisive frame.
“We struggle with that, but tonight we played well from beginning to end and kept our poise,” Walker said. “We got a little anxious there at the end, but we didn’t tighten up like we did earlier in the season.”
After Southwest controlled the first two sets, Southeast (22-12) battled back from a 17-11 third-set deficit and held set point at 24-23 after back-to-back kills from senior outside hitter Kate Dean. A Jaden Ferguson block on a Melanie Brecka middle attack saved it for the Silver Hawks, then a Ferguson cross-court tip put Southwest at match point.
A Southwest net violation after a long rally wiped that out, but the Hawks closed out the match with a Ferguson kill and an ace serve by Paige Silverberg.
Ferguson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore outside hitter, led a balanced Southwest offense with 10 kills. Silverberg, another sophomore, chipped in eight.
Silverberg’s match-ending ace was the 10th of the match for Southwest. Libero Kaitie Siefkes led with four aces to go with her team-high 13 digs.
On the flip side, Southwest surrendered just one ace serve.
“Our serve-and-pass was a lot better tonight than it was three weeks ago,” Southwest coach Mark Novotny said. “You’ve got to serve tough against a team like Southeast who has a great middle."
Brecka, a 6-foot junior and Missouri-Kansas City recruit, led the Knights with 10 kills, while senior outside hitter Alaetra Long added nine. Senior setter Jennie Hammel put up 25 assists, and teammate Megan Dobbs registered 23 digs.
“Southwest played well, we didn’t play to our ability, and that’s why we got that result,” Southeast coach Annie Healey said. “We’ll get back in the gym, work hard the next few days and get ready for the one that matters next week.”
Barring an upset in the first round, Southwest and Southeast will likely meet again in six days at Southwest with the A-7 district title and a Class A state tournament berth on the line.
“I’m sure Southeast will be angry and ready to play,” Walker said. “Next week is where it counts.”
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