Cross County volleyball has had quite the run to begin the 2019 season. For nearly the first four weeks of the campaign, the Cougars didn't lose a match and only lost two sets while starting 13-0.
That mark bested the previous best start when CC went 12-0 to begin 2007.
Cross County has made two trips to the state tournament (2005 and 2013) and hasn't had a 20-win season since 2007. But despite a program history that includes only a handful of memorable moments, the Cougars came into 2019 believing they had the potential to add to their story.
"It didn’t surprise me at all," Cross County head coach Autumn Capler said. "This is only my second year coaching, but I’ve been here for seven and I’ve watched a lot of Cross County volleyball. The potential has been there, and once we started rolling it didn’t surprise me at all that we were 13-0."
The run eventually came to an end against Class C-2 No. 1 Hastings St. Cecilia and No. 3 Superior. Cross County lost to both teams on Tuesday sandwiched around a win over Heartland.
The Cougars also dropped matches Thursday to D-2 No. 2 Lawrence-Nelson and Wood River.
But while ranked foes have made it tough lately, Cross County also owns a win over D-2 No. 3 BDS and has victories against 12-5 Fullerton and 12-8 High Plains Community.
Those quality wins plus the other 11 this season come down to one characteristic mentioned by nearly every player: mental toughness.
That never-say-die attitude as perhaps most apparent with Cross County took down Bruning-Davenport-Schickley.
The Cougars found themselves down late in every set but battled back to sweep the rated Eagles.
"We knew going in it was going to be a really tough match and we were comeback city the whole game," said senior libero Katie Kopetzky. "We were always down every set and we never took it out on each other. We came back and we fought and we swept them in three. That one really sticks out to me."
Kopetczky leads Cross County in digs with 153 and serve receptions with 210.
The ability not to take frustration out on each other has proven to be another team strength.
The close-knit Cougars said that wasn't always the case is past seasons.
"Last year we would always bicker at each other, and this year we’re so tight," senior setter Amanda Giannou said. "It’s just different. Last year we would just get frustrated with each other, and this year it’s just been so fun. I look forward to every game and practice. At summer leagues and camps we could tell this year was going to be different. It was all clicking and it was good."
Giannou leads Cross County in aces with 28 and assists with 341.
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During the 13-game win streak, Cross County defeated Fullerton, Shelby-Rising City, BDS, Friend, Heartland Lutheran, McCool Junction, Heartland, High Plains, East Butler, Nebraska Lutheran, Osceola, David City and Palmer.
"We played St. Cecilia first and we did not come out playing our best," Capler said about the loss that ended the streak. "(The players) knew it, and it was our first mental block that we have encountered this season. To play through that was tough and frustrating. That was a hard game just to get through. We just couldn’t find a rhythm.
"We had to play right away again. We played Heartland, and they responded really well. We went into the locker room in between and we said, ‘It’s done, it’s over, there’s our first loss, there’s our first mental break. We have to move on.’"
Moving on means remaining hopeful for a big postseason.The Cougars will continue to take it one match at a time, but feel what they've done so far is proof they've got what it takes to find their way back to Lincoln.
In Cross County's only two trips to the state capital, the Cougars have gone 1-2 with a win over Cambridge in 2005.
"I knew we were going to start out really well, and I knew we were going to have a good season, but I guess I wasn’t expecting us to have as much fight as we do," said junior middle hitter Erica Stratman. "We’ve had a really good season.
"(Our goals are to) win conference and then eventually it will be to go to state. But our everyday goal is to improve day-by-day. That’s always our team goal. (Making state) would be amazing. That’s always been our goal. But I think this year we really have the team chemistry to do it."
Stratman leads the Cougars in kills with 145 and blocks with 33.
Another reason Cross County has for making a state trip is the excitement it would generate in the community. Stromsburg has a population of just over 1,000 and is fully on board with a state turn.
"For our community, it would be a big deal. (In) small-town Stromsburg, everybody knows everybody," said junior outside hitter Cortlyn Schaefer. "We haven’t been there since 2013. We just have to prove ourselves this year that we are the team to do it.
"I think we knew going into the season that we were going to be a strong team, because or chemistry is there. Compared to past years, we all hang out together, so we know each other on the court and feel that every game. I feel like we really have a good push back. If we get down we find a way to fight back."
Schafer leads the Cougars in kills per set with 3.7.
Remaining on Cross County's schedule isbD-2 No. 2 Lawrence-Nelson, D-2 No. 9 Giltner, D-1 No. 9 Meridian and multiple tournaments with ranked opponents and contenders including a sub-district with C-2 No.6 Wahoo Neumann.
"We are at the toughest part of our season," Capler said. "This week, going into all of October, we’re going to see some really tough teams. I just think that if we can continue to keep our side of the net clean, if we can just eliminate our errors and play our game and continue to have fun and continue to trust each other, we’ll be good. We’re going to have a tough sub-district. All those little things, if we can keep doing them we’ll be fine."
Cross County competes at the Clarkson/Leigh Invite on Saturday which features a field including the hosts, David City Aquinas, Howells-Dodge, Humphrey-Lindsay Holy Family, Oakland-Craig, Pender and Wheeler Central.
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org