There's a reason why Class D-1 Nebraska Christian came into Lakeview on Tuesday night with an 11-1 mark. Coach K.C. Belitz and the Lady Vikes found that out first hand in a pair of challenging sets that pushed Lakeview nearly to the brink.
But when the Eagles pushed, the Lady Vikes pushed back and finished off a spotless triangular with a 25-21, 25-19 victory to go with one earlier over Boone Central 25-12, 25-12.
Lakeview's variety of attackers was eventually too much to overcome. Three players had five or more digs, the Lady Vikes didn't make any receiving errors and two members of the lineup had double digit digs.
Lakeview has only lost one set this season and didn't expect to on Tuesday. But a spirited match with the No. 4 team in Class D-1 was an effective start for the No. 1 team in Class C-1 to embark on perhaps its most challenging part of the regular season.
"We weren't perfect, but we were solid against Boone Central. Nebraska Christian, I feel pretty good about that one; that's a good team," Belitz said. "Watching film coming in it really struck me how similar they are to us - very balanced offensively, play good defense, a little bigger than us and a really good serving team; lot of similarities. I knew that one would be close. I'm pretty pleased to get that win."
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Nebraska Christian's only other loss was Saturday against Class B Adams Central in the title match of the Central City Invite. The Eagles also have a win over D-1 No. 8 Central Valley and another against 10-3 Burwell from C-2.
Tuesday night, Lakeview had 24 total kills to 21 for Nebraska Christian, hit .169 to 122, had three aces and six service errors while the visitors failed to generate an ace to go with one error and the Lady Vikes had 41 total digs compared to 73.
Yes, as the statistics show, it really was that close. There were few extended scoring runs. But as the last figure in total digs reveals, Lakeview was simply on the attack more often and overwhelmed Nebraska Christian with its variety of options.
Katee Korte led with six kills, Lilly Rowe and Maddi Vogt had five each and Mallori Kucera had four in the middle. Elly Luchsinger and Autumn Gibbs tied at 10 assists apiece. Jordie Nekl put together 14 digs while Vogt had 10.
Nebraska Christian senior Olivia Macken led the Eagles with six kills and a .312 hitting percentage. Macken is the team's third-leading hitter. The Lakeview defense held normal top option Reghan Flynn and number two Shelby McHargue to a combined total of six kills. Together, they hit just .0625.
Rowe hit .000 and Vogt .091, but the variety of options Lakeview has, was more than enough to hold off Nebraska Christian.
Lakeview also had a slightly different mindset than a few days earlier when a season-high 22 errors at Battle Creek nearly forced a fourth set. Battle Creek, which also can't match Lakeview offensively, has a scrappy back line that can force long rallies and often inspire frustration. The Lady Vikes had a better understanding of how to navigate that frustration on Tuesday's closing match.
"We were just pretty darn steady," Belitz said. "It was within a couple points through the first set and we never let them get ahead. I think that's the mark of a good team. Every time it was within a point or tied, we delivered on that rally; we never let them get ahead."
The opener was not competitive. Eight different Lady Vikes had a kill, Vogt led with five, Rowe put up four aces and the result was never in question.
Lakeview takes its 12-0 record to the Aurora Invite on Saturday where the field includes the hosts from Class B, and the first opponent of the day, Class B No. 3 Waverly, Class B Sidney, Class C-1 No. 4 Kearney Catholic, Class B Crete, 7-7 Lincoln Christian and Class B Bennington.
Lakeview was the runner-up last year with wins over Sidney, Waverly and current Husker Whitney Lauenstein before a 25-22, 26-24 defeat to Kearney Catholic.
"The field this year is more even top to bottom than last year. There just won't be any easy ones, which, we just talked about, is perfectly fine; that's exactly what we need," Belitz said. "Starting tonight, we're into a crucial 10-day period."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.