KEARNEY — Ainsley Aden’s spike landed in between two Grand Island Northwest players to mark the final point in Kearney Catholic’s triumphant come-from-behind victory in five sets.
The Stars looked overmatched in the first two sets against the Vikings. But the Stars limited their mistakes and improved defensively to gain confidence and battle back to win the final three sets and defeat the Vikings 18-25, 16-25, 25-20, 25-20, 15-10 at Cope Coliseum on Thursday night.
“I’m super proud of the girls of the way they came back,” KCHS coach Kris Conner said. “They were down a long ways in those first two sets, and then they gained a little momentum and got back. They played awesome those last three sets, like we were playing at the end of the summer. I really thought defensively we stepped it up and out hustled.”
After dropping the first two sets, including the second where they trailed by as many as 16, the Stars (9-5) kept pace with the Vikings (6-7) in the third set.
Tied 18-18 after a Northwest service error, the Stars rattled off five straight points. Sarah Clinch registered a kill to cap a 25-20 third-set victory for the Stars.
The Stars carried that success into the fourth. They won six of the first seven points and never trailed in the set. The Vikings managed to tie the fourth at 17-17 but committed four errors to allow the Stars to prevail 25-20.
In the decisive fifth set, the Stars stormed out to a 5-0 lead to force a Viking timeout. The Vikings evened the score at 6-6 before the Stars claimed five straight points with three coming on kills by Ashley Keck.
The Stars won 15-10 in the fifth to finish off an impressive comeback. After the Vikings won the first set by seven points, they overwhelmed the Stars and capitalized on poor defensive play to string together a 17-2 run.
The Vikings held a 22-6 lead after a Star hitting error but had troubles closing out the set. The Stars managed to score 10 points before Macey Bosard’s kill gave the Vikings a 25-16 set victory.
It appeared the Vikings would ease to a three-set sweep, but the Stars regrouped in between the second and third sets and regained their usual form.
“I think they were kind of embarrassed because we knew we were much better than that,” Conner said. “We also had some good serving runs. I think Ella Bruggeman got back there, and she had a nice serving run. We got a little momentum.
“When you start to get momentum, you can build on that pretty fast. You could just see from set three through five that our confidence just kept getting higher and higher. We started to play with some swag, like they say.”
The Stars finished the match with a .136 hitting percentage and committed 12 service errors.
Keck and Clinch carried the Stars’ offense and combined for 30 kills. Ashlyn Wischmeier had 30 assists.
The Stars were without Julia McReynolds and starting setter Sydney Conner, who’s missed the entire season with an injury.
The Stars have played well with the absence of key starters but figuring how to perform consistently from set to set is the “million dollar question,” Conner said.
“They know they can,” Conner said. “First off, this season has been tough. We’re trying to get used to new quarterbacks and it just takes your timing and rhythm away and takes awhile. (Ashlyn) Wischmeier really settled in, and Josie (Denney) did a good job coming in and serving and playing the back row.
“We ask a lot of Wischmeier because she was our libero last year, then we had her playing outside this summer and she was doing a great job and now she’s setting. She’s just a good athlete and can play multiple positions, thank goodness. I was really glad to see Ashley Keck and Sarah Clinch. They’re kind of our go-tos and they turned it up a notch tonight.”