LINCOLN — The excitement was real as the Alliance Bulldogs volleyball clutched a trip to state for the first time in 18 years. In fact, most of these girls weren't born yet when Alliance found its way to the semifinals in 2000, when games were played at the now defunct Pershing Auditorium.
On Thursday, the No. 5 seed district champion Bulldogs took on the No. 4 seed Waverly Vikings at 26-7 in a mid-afternoon match at Pinnacle Bank Arena. For most of the match, both teams went back-and-forth, though Waverly had moments where they took sizable leads in the sets. Ultimately, the Vikings ended the Bulldogs season with a sweep (25-20, 26-24, 26-24).
“I think our nerves got in the way a bit,” head coach Jessica Kaiser said. The Bulldogs trailed in the first set 20-11 and got off to a 10-1 deficit in the second. Waverly used solid attacking and good blocking to take advantages.
In both sets though, Alliance battled back. The Bulldogs made it close at the end of the first set and took the lead late in the second.
“We started to play like us,” senior Ryley Rolls said, and the team had their chances to grab a set or two, but the attack of Waverly was strong enough.
“They were a very solid team,” senior Emersen Cyza said. “Their outside hitters could swing over the blocks really well… They made it tough on us.”
In the third set, Alliance had multiple set points to extend the match, but Waverly closed it by scoring the final two points.
Kaiser pointed out service errors as being an issue in the game. In total Alliance had nine service errors and five in the third set. “It made us not set up our offense the way we wanted to,” Kaiser said. “If we were able to I think we would have had more success.”
A net violation by the Bulldogs in the third set gave Waverly the 26-24 win and the 3-0 sweep.
“I told them (after the game) every girls’ season ends this weekend,” Kaiser said. “It’s not the way we wanted it to end, but making it here is something to be proud of.”
Cyza led the way for the Bulldogs with 19 kills and 10 digs. Rolls contributed with eight kills and 12 digs. Junior Jordan Hopp added nine kills and junior Khloe Felker had 11 digs. Seniors Shelbi Mills and Megan Oligmueller had a bulk of the assists with Mills having a team-high 19 assists and Oligmueller with 14.
For Waverly, Whitney Lauenstein had a Viking-high 18 kills. Kelsey Perrotto finished with eight. Annika Evans had a game-high 33 assists in the match.
Waverly moved on to play No.1 seed Elkhorn South in the semifinals. It’s the Vikings first trip to the semis in six years. Alliance ends their season with a respectable 29 wins and six losses.
For the Bulldogs, five seniors — Blythe Boness, Emersen Cyza, Megan Oligmueller, Shelbi Mills and Ryley Rolls — played their last game in Bulldog uniform.
“It’s really tough knowing we won’t put on our jerseys anymore,” said Cyza, who finished with 552 kills on the season.
“I have such a special relationship with all of them,” Kaiser said. “It’s been emotional knowing that they’re going to be gone, but the relationships are something I’ll always cherish.