The Schuyler volleyball season came to a close on Oct. 30 in Columbus with a three-set loss to the host Discoverers.
The Lady Warriors were assigned the No. 4 seed at the Class B-5 sub-district site in Columbus after a 4-21 season.
The other half of the bracket included Blair defeating South Sioux City in five sets. Columbus swept past Blair to qualify for a district final match at Omaha Skutt on Nov. 3.
"No matter how that turned out, I'm super proud of the girls," coach Jenna Saalfeld said. "They played hard from start to finish. They never gave up. They just kept plugging through even though we didn't win.
"It just came down to (Columbus) played a little more aggressive than we did."
The start put Schuyler in a tough position right away when Columbus jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first set. It became a 20-4 advantage before the Discoverers eventually finished it off 25-10.
The Lady Warriors led the second set 2-0 on back-to-back Discoverer hitting errors but quickly gave up a run of nine points in 10 rallies and trailed 9-3. Saalfeld called a timeout to stop the momentum but Columbus just kept coming.
By the time the Discoverers were called for being in the net, they had added five more points and let 14-3. The action was mostly even the rest of the way but that mattered little with SCHS in an 11-point hole.
Columbus took the second by an identical score of 25-10.
CHS opened with the first three points of set three before Schuyler battled back to within one point minutes later at 5-4 and 6-5. A three-point Discoverer swing opened it up some. Schuyler had the ball for the final time after a Columbus serving error then allowed 14 straight points to finish the night with a 25-7 third set defeat.
"It's either we're struggling with serve receive but we have great attacking or we have serve receive but poor attacking," Saalfeld said. "We can never seem to find a time where it all flows together at once."
The loss meant four defeats in a row to end the year dating back to a win over Madison on Oct. 16.
Schuyler's other three wins were a 2-0 win over Homer on Sept. 15, a 3-0 sweep of Crete on Sept. 11 and a three-set sweep of Cornerstone Christian on Aug. 30.
"Yes, our record wasn't great, but for the people who came to the matches they saw the heart the girls pour into every single point, every single game," Saalfeld said. "That would be very evident to them."
Heart and want-to are two important elements Saalfeld is trying to build into a program that is in the midst of developing a winning culture.
The Lady Warriors have won 10 or more matches just twice in the last 12 years and have no winning seasons during that span.
Confidence and belief are as much a struggle as winning is for a group that has experienced little success.
The best Lady Warriors also simply don't have the ability to give volleyball their full attention.
"I feel like all of our girls in the past know we're not up to a Seward or a York or any of those teams are at. But a lot of those girls, their focus is volleyball or they're allowed to play club volleyball," Saalfeld said. "A lot of our girls, they're our starters in basketball, starting soccer, top track athletes. They do it all.
"Getting them to really focus on one sport is tough."
For a team that went through long stretches of losing, there isn't perhaps one area to point to as a strength. The Lady Warriors were just too inconsistent to rely on any element of their game.
What was consistent and present though, was something Saalfeld mentioned earlier. It's the intangible she believes the 2018 group leaves behind for others to follow.
"They had great team chemistry. I had five seniors, four of who played since they were freshmen. They continued to build that chemistry and were there for each other throughout the whole entire season," she said.
That much experience though begs the question: how much rebuilding and replacing will Saalfeld have to endure to get next year's group ready to go?
Schuyler says goodbye to seniors Reagan Folda, Cassie Macholan, Maria Semerad, Rachel Shonka and Tasha Wolken.
Shonka was tops on the team with 127 kills, Shonka and Semerad led with 30 aces apiece, Shonka tied for the lead with 32 solo blocks, Semerad had 305 kills, Macholan was eight sets short of 100 assists and all five played in 50 or more sets.
"We have quite a few places to fill, but we have a lot of great girls who work hard every day in practice. It was hard coming up with my lineup because I had so many players I could put in so many positions," Saalfeld said. "But we're definitely going to miss Rachel, Maria and Reagan. Those are the three that have been starting since they were freshmen. They'll be very hard to replace."
That trio, plus the seniors overall, have always led from the front Saalfeld said. They showed up to every workout or open gym, during, before and after the season and always gave it their all when they did.
Although their schedules didn't always allow such a commitment, Saalfeld said they were there every time.
It'll take that kind of continued work ethic plus a renewed sense of confidence to be better in 2019.
"They know that they can do it, but they always second guess themselves. They play too timid. They don't want to be the one to make an error," Saalfeld said. "We just need to get over that. We need to know that if we make an error, it's OK. We've got to learn to move on from our mistakes."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at SCHsports@lee.net