D-1 No. 9 Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family saw its season come to an end on Saturday in a loss to No. 6 Humboldt-Table Rock-Steinauer in the D1-8 district championship played in Crete.
The Bulldogs lost 23-25, 25-14, 25-18, 25-18 and missed out on a second straight trip to state, finishing the season 21-11. HLHF made it to Lincoln a year ago, coming up short in the state championship.
Paige Beller did all she could for the Bulldogs with 17 kills on 45 swings, but it wasn't enough against an HTS team that hit .242 compared to just .103 for HLHF.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family coach Cami Oelsligle said there may have been some nerves early, her group pushed through those, but never quite developed a second consistent option behind Beller.
"We came out to a very slow start in the second. A bit better in the third where we were going point-for-point up until the first 10 points, and they slowly pulled away. We came out to the early lead in the fourth but found ourselves in a rut, and we couldn't get out," she said. "We never quit fighting, but things just wouldn't fall our way it seemed."
Allie Schneider also had 11 kills and Addison Schneider seven, but there wasn't as much balance after the first set. Much of that had to do with passing and putting hitters in position to be successful.
And once the nerves went away, Oelsligle said, so too did a little bit of the intensity. That plus hitting out of system more often the rest of the way doused early hopes after a first-set win.
"The biggest difference would probably have to be the energy the girls had," Oelsligle said. "The nerves almost helped keep us on our toes. Once those settled, we almost got too comfortable and didn't play with the intensity we needed."
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This match was the final appearance for six Bulldog seniors - Madison Swerczek, Allie Schneider, Hailey Vavra, Brittney Veik, Ashley Schemek and Brooklyn Magsamen.
"It was tough, but for more reasons than just not making it to the final again," Oelsligle said. "We were disappointed because we never reached our full potential this season.
"We battled injury after injury, and only just recently had a full squad, that's hard. We know we are better than we ever showed, but we won't be able to show that. So, to overcome all of the battles throughout the year, and needing one more to overcome, but falling just short is really hard."
Oelsligle has been involved with the group in some form or fashion since the third grade. So, of course, seeing it come to an end the way it did was tough.
Over four years, the six seniors were part of 89 wins, one state runner-up season and two others that closed in the district final.
"The hardest part is probably the fact that these girls cared for each other. They wanted to win for each other, get to state for each other, and earn some medals for each other," Oelsligle said. "We were emotional for quite some time, and still probably will be, but these girls should not hang their heads about anything. We fought all year long to even be in the position to have a wild card, unfortunately, it just wasn't meant to be."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com