Lauren Taubenheim and the Class A No. 2 Lincoln Pius X Thunderbolts meant business on Thursday night.
The senior leader peppered No. 8 Millard South with her usual offensive barrage but hardly cracked a smile all night long. At least, not until the job was done.
With the exception of a lopsided third set, the businesslike attitude was much-need for the Thunderbolts as they went blow for blow against Millard South. Pius X emerged victorious in four sets, winning 25-22, 21-25, 25-8, 25-20 in the opening round of the Class A state volleyball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“They put the pressure (on themselves) to play perfect and win the whole game in the first set, and we can’t do that,” Lincoln Pius X coach Katie Wenz said. "That’s what we reminded them of, to just play their game and good things will come.”
The first set was a showcase of Pius X’s offensive skills as the Thunderbolts peppered the Millard South defense with shot after shot. Kylen Sealock collected six kills in the set, and Carly Rodaway came up with two big kills and the set-winning block to give Pius X the 25-22 first-set victory.
However, the Patriots laid an offensive foundation of their own in the first set that caused Pius X problems in the second set. Madison MacTaggart, who finished with 13 kills, found success for the Patriots offensively and back-to-back blocks from the Millard South defense closed out the set.
To begin the third set, Pius X came out with a new-found burst of quality. Behind a pair of aces from Cora Thomas and a well-oiled offense, the Thunderbolts charged out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back. After a quiet second set, Sealock added six kills to a match-high 19-kill performance to fuel the Thunderbolts to a 25-8 victory.
“In that timeout between the second and third set, we did some mental techniques and refocused, not on the X's and O's but more on the fundamentals,” Wenz said.
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The fourth set continued the back-and-forth pattern, as Millard South led early before the Thunderbolts pulled away late. With a 25-20 fourth-set victory, Pius X advanced to Friday's 7 p.m. semifinals against the Papillion-La Vista South at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
On a day that featured upsets of the top two seeds in Class A, third-seeded Pius X heeded those warnings and got the job done.
“It was a good reminder from those first couple games where there were upsets that it’s state, everybody’s here for the same purpose and everybody’s here to upset you,” Wenz said.
Right before Pius X took care of business, No. 10 Papillion-La Vista South completed the second big Class A upset of the day over No. 3 Elkhorn South. All three sets were tightly contested, but the Titan defense worked hard to shut down Elkhorn South’s best hitters in the 25-21, 26-24, 25-21 victory.
Sophie Whittaker supplied the offensive production for the Titans, leading the team with 14 kills.
After handing Papillion-La Vista its first loss of the season and sweeping through district play, the Titans are playing their best volleyball at the right time.
“It’s taken us some time, but we’re peaking at the moment we need to,” Papillion-La Vista South coach Katie Wright said. “Everybody is just doing their job, and that’s just what it takes.”