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Logan punches ticket to state tourney

By CONOR NICHOLL
cnicholl@dailynews.net

NATOMA – Logan High School senior setter Michaela Girard served with the Trojans down 20-17 in the third set against rival Almena-Northern Valley in Saturday’s Class 1A Division II sub-state championship game.

Girard, who had played club volleyball throughout volleyball-crazy Nebraska the last couple of years, felt no nerves.

“I have had matches like that before,” she said. “It doesn’t bug me.”

Girard uncorked her vicious jump serve with plenty of topspin, an attack that had given teams fits throughout the day. Girard served five straight points, including an ace. The run helped Logan earn a 25-20, 22-25, 25-22 victory and advance to this week’s Class 1A
Division II state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.

“She played really well today and that serve, when it’s on, it’s wicked,” Logan coach Robin Van Laeys said.
Logan, the No. 2 seed, moved to 24-12 with a pair of three-set victories against Natoma, 25-14, 23-25, 25-23, and the top-seeded Huskies.

“Our serve-receive hurt us,” Husky first-year coach Kirsten Baird said. “We shouldn’t have lost four or five points there at the end of the game. That was the game right there. We’ve just got to play confident. We want to play to win.”
The Trojans had lost to Northern Valley (28-9) twice in the last two weeks, each by three sets.

“We’ve just to got to stay focused,” Baird said. “It’s just disappointing. I think we are the better team. We have got better athletes. We really do.”

After sophomore Christen Greving’s kill clinched the state berth, Van Laeys let out a deep breath.

A few minutes later, she said in the team celebration, “I am exhausted.”

“Nobody ever lost their cool,” Van Laeys said. “It could have gone either way. I am tired. I know the kids were exhausted. The emotions of it, and the physicality of the game.”

Northern Valley enjoyed a big turnaround under Baird, who coached the current high school group in traveling volleyball in fifth and sixth grade. She has coached junior high the last 21 years and is doing both levels this fall.

The Huskies had trouble with numbers in volleyball and girls’ basketball the last several seasons. Last fall, the Huskies went 12-17, didn’t make pool play in league tournament and lost in the first round of sub-state. Now, the numbers are back up.

“I am hoping it’s a little bit more positive, and the girls want to be included,” Baird said. “We have great participation now. I think it’s just a different atmosphere.”

The Huskies graduate just one senior, setter Brooke Hammond, a move-in from Logan. Van Laeys started crying when she discussed Hammond playing for Northern Valley.

“We miss her,” Van Laeys said. “That’s been very hard on us. There was a little bit with that involved. We wanted to win knowing we were without her.”

Against Natoma, Logan won the first set behind 3-0 and 7-0 runs on Girard’s serve. She collected four aces in the set. After the Tigers won the second set, Girard served a 4-0 run with two aces for a 10-5 third set lead. Then, Natoma won eight straight points.
Logan came back to tie the match at 15 and led 23-20 before it hung on.

Natoma enjoyed a strong first season under coach Chris Broeckelman. With just two players above 5-foot-8, the Tigers went 21-13, but 0-3 against Logan with all third set losses.

“As much as we want to say that we may not have been looking past Natoma, we were,” Van Laeys said. “We wanted this match up against the green (Huskies), and so I think that was some of it. But that’s where our eyes were really. We were ready.”

With sophomore Makayla Hilburn serving, Logan reeled off a 9-0 run to start the final and never trailed in the first set. The Trojans led 17-12 in the second set before the Huskies battled back for the tie.

The third set featured 11 ties, including 15 all before Northern Valley went on a 5-1 run. A kill by junior Kodi Van Laeys gave Girard the serve.

Girard started her jump serve, rarely seen at the high level, her freshman year. She served on and off in matches. Finally, Coach Van Laeys told Girard this season to choose either the jump serve or the traditional serve from ground level.

Girard chose the jump serve for situations, including pressure moments. Girard’s philosophy was simple: “I just get really mad, and then I just serve it.”

After a Northern Valley attack error, Girard served an ace to cut the deficit to 20-19.

“It’s hard to read,” Baird said. “Sometimes, it has a little curve to it. … We have had servers like that before.”

Another Husky error tied the match. Then, a Van Laeys kill gave Logan the lead from a free ball off a big Girard serve.

“We want to swing hard,” Baird said. “At the end, when it’s crunch time, you can’t keep tipping it.”

A long point led to a Husky error and a 22-20 lead. Northern Valley tied the match, but three straight kills, the last two from Greving, gave Logan the victory.

“We knew it was our turn to go get them this time,” Greving said.