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STATE VOLLEYBALL

State volleyball: Lincoln Lutheran avenges recent state shortcomings, capping 'pretty incredible' year with Class C-1 title

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Lincoln Lutheran’s journey to its first state championship in volleyball since 2004 didn’t start with the first match of the season in August, nor did it start the season before.

Instead, it began in 2017, when a third-place finish at the state tournament gave way to a crushing five-set defeat in the 2018 title game. With the departure of an immensely talented senior class, it wasn’t going to be easy for the Warriors to continue their natural progression.

Building on the foundation of the past two years, the Warriors hit the offseason with a newfound intensity, bringing focus to the regular season and overcoming last year’s defeat with a sweep over Wahoo in the semifinals Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

In the Class C-1 title game, the Warriors finally achieved their goal of a state title, toppling previously undefeated and No. 1 St. Paul in four sets (25-27, 25-20, 30-28, 25-19) on Saturday at Devaney Sports Center. 

“What they did this year was pretty incredible, especially after having a great group last year and where we ended up in a five-set match with Wahoo, and then these guys persevered throughout this season,” Lincoln Lutheran coach Sue Ziegler said.

Even after overcoming Wahoo, the final match posed a new challenge for the Warriors in a St. Paul team that didn't drop a set until the semifinals of the state tournament. Lincoln Lutheran roared out to an eight-point lead in the first set, but eventually squandered a 22-17 lead as the Wildcat defense looked to shut down the Warriors’ star attacker, Marriah Buss.

Despite the Wildcats’ best efforts, nothing was going to stop Buss from winning a state title, and the standout senior's determination was illustrated through six unanswered kills in the second set after St. Paul jumped to an early 2-0 advantage. 

As the Wildcats mounted another late comeback, Buss provided a crucial kill and the Warriors evened the match at one set apiece.

“The first set was a little tough when we dropped that, but I still had confidence and the girls still had confidence in each other,” Ziegler said.

With both sides seeking a 2-1 advantage in the match, the third set was one for the ages. A number of set points could have put the match in St. Paul’s favor, but the Warriors used their season-long theme of relentlessness to edge the 30-28 win.

Buss was a star throughout the match, totaling a match-high 26 kills, but the Warriors needed other players to step up in crunch time. With the fourth set tied 18-18, Samantha Scholz, Abby Wohlgemuth and Abby Wachal each provided kills, and Wohlgemuth finished with nine kills on the day.

“The balanced attack is definitely one of our strengths and when you get Abby fired up, that gets everybody going,” Ziegler said.

And in the end, it wasn’t Buss who provided the match-winning point. Instead, it was senior setter Paige Trutna, who sealed the match with one of her match-best five aces. Considering the Warriors relied on a group effort all season long to produce a program-record 37 wins, there was no better way to clinch the victory.

“I was just really excited and so proud of my teammates all season,” Buss said. “We’ve just really worked as a team and it’s not really been one person or another but a whole group effort.”

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