Call it a blueprint, a modus operandi or even a lifestyle. Whatever it is, it has worked for top-ranked Lincoln Pius X over the second half of the season, and the state volleyball tournament stage did little to stifle it.
The Thunderbolts (35-2) have found success using the same formula, in which they play a competitive opening set, win late and use the momentum to sweep over the final two sets in dominant fashion. The trend continued Thursday in the opening round of the Class A state tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
A five-point run at the end of the first set gave the Thunderbolts a 25-21 win before rolling in the final two sets, 25-11, 25-17, to sweep Millard South and advance to Friday’s semifinals.
“I think that is (the blueprint); we’ve been trying to change it, but we do struggle sometimes in that first set,” Pius X coach Katie Wenz said. “Even though we have the experience, I think the environment just got to them and when we got down there a little bit, I just told them, 'We trust you, now it’s time to trust yourselves.' Hopefully tomorrow, we won’t have that tomorrow, but it was fun to have them rebound the way they did.”
An increased emphasis on defense following the first set has been the key to the Thunderbolts' success in following sets, and that storyline continued Thursday. Sophomore Alexis Markowski was a force at the net in the second set and picked up three crucial blocks midway through the set to help Pius X build a double-digit lead.
Millard South just couldn’t get a ball down against the swarming defense of the Thunderbolts, and as the Patriots’ frustration continued to grow, so did their deficit on the scoreboard over the final two sets.
“I give the kudos to my defense today; we tried some different things in practice this week,” Wenz added. “We practiced second-ball defense all week and we told them, 'Nothing lands on effort. You sacrifice yourself to get that ball up. You know you can do it. All of you are so talented in that back row that you can get any ball up.' They really refocused that second set.”
It was Lauren Taubenheim’s turn to lead the versatile Thunderbolt offense and the junior finished with a team-high 14 kills.
“Our passing is great so it allowed Grace (Gokie) to get up a lot of great sets so we can get the ball down,” Taubenheim said. “Everybody contributed today and did their part."
The Thunderbolts advance to Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinal against defending state champion Omaha Marian.