Top-ranked St. Paul had a bevy of reasons to celebrate Friday.
“The girls are so proud, mostly because they got me to cry,” Wildcats coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said. “I’m pretty much a robot the rest of the time.”
St. Paul is more proud of what it accomplished on the court moments earlier.
The Wildcats got past No. 6 Broken Bow 23-25, 25-22, 25-15, 25-18 in Friday’s Class C-1 state volleyball semifinals to advance to the program’s first state final.
“I have an entire team of girls that care so deeply about what they’re doing and they put in so much time offseason and behind the scenes to do everything right,” Koehn-Fairbanks said of the emotional moments following the match. “We may not have a first-team all-stater on our team and we’re playing in the state championship (match). It’s a testament to what these girls do every single day of believing in each other and believing in themselves and truly making the most of what they have.”
St. Paul (35-0) hadn’t dropped a set all season entering Friday’s match, a string of 82 sets. Broken Bow snapped it immediately.
It didn’t seem to faze the Wildcats, who got stronger as the match progressed.
“We didn’t expect to go the whole season without dropping a set, and I think it showed how much we can come back from that,” St. Paul senior outside Brooke Poppert said.
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On Thursday, Koehn-Fairbanks said the team didn’t put much thought into the streak this week, knowing it was going to be difficult to sweep through a state tournament.
It was how his team responded to adversity that caught his attention.
“I’m just so proud of the way we bounced back because it could have gone a little different ways when you lose your first set,” he said. “For us to come back and play really well in the second and play even better in the third, that just says what we’ve been all about all year.”
St. Paul stuck to its game plan and used a balanced attack and an aggressive serving approach to put Broken Bow on its heels.
The Indians recovered and took a 12-8 lead in the fourth set, but the Wildcats scored the next four points and then used a strong finish to seal the match.
Poppert finished with a match-high 17 kills, junior Josie Jakubowski had 16 kills and junior middle Teegan Hansel added 13. Sophomore setter Olivia Poppert had 54 assists.
Broken Bow (33-3) won its first state tournament match since 1981 with a four-set win against No. 5 Wayne on Thursday. Senior Majesta Valasek had 16 kills and 13 digs.