LEXINGTON — Janet Victory rung true to her name on Saturday.
The St. Pat’s first-year head coach rallied the Lady Irish to the Lexington Invitational title game, a stepping stone towards the winning culture she hopes to instill for years to come.
"I’m really proud of the girls coming here and playing with a lot of heart today," Victory said. "They never won a set (last year), and today we won four sets, two games and got into the championship. We’re a small school, but we came in here against some of these Class B and C-1 schools and held our own."
After sneaking away with two consecutive thrillers won by less than a combined five points in the final sets against Lexington and Chase County, the Lady Irish’s run ended in straight sets against juggernaut and current Class C1 No. 4 St. Paul.
"They’re a good team and they’ve got some big hitters," Victory said of St. Paul. "I think it got a little bit into our girls’ minds some of the calls that they didn’t think were right in that game, but I thought they still played hard through it and had some fun even though we came up short."
The Lady Irish not only hung with the Wildcats, but led 9-7 early in the opening set of the championship. Tied at 12 apiece in the set, St. Paul pulled away by outscoring the Lady Irish 13-6 to win the first set, 25-18.
The Wildcats (5-0), who have not lost a single set this season, opened the second set with a 4-1 cushion, but the Lady Irish rallied back to tie it at five and later at eight.
The Wildcats, however, started pulling away by fueling a 14-9 lead with a 6-1 run. St. Paul extended that lead by as many as 11, taking the second set, 25-12, to complete the sweep.
St. Pat’s (3-3) hoisted the runner-up trophy after finishing 2-1 in the tournament, but earning the first two wins didn’t come easy.
The Lady Irish opened the tourney against the host, unflinchingly snatching a 25-18 first-set win over the Minutemaids, who eventually finished in sixth place.
But Lexington would win the second set, forcing a tiebreaker with a 25-20 win.
In the third and final set, the Minutemaids gathered an early 7-2 lead, but St. Pat’s stormed back with an 8-1 run to take a 10-8 lead. The Lady Irish fought past five lead changes in the final stages of the set, holding on for a 25-23 win to advance.
"I felt like we won the first set pretty easily, but then Lexington just got us right at the end of the second set," Victory said. "Our girls really showed a lot of heart to come back in the third and win it. I’m really proud of them because that’s something they continued to do all day."
St. Pat’s had weathered one battle, but the next one would only escalate the level of adversity.
The Lady Irish faced off against SPVA rival Chase County, who had defeated Hershey in three sets to reach the semifinals.
St. Pat’s rallied early in the first set, opening a 10-3 cushion, which they compounded into a 25-13 win.
Facing a two-set sweep, the Longhorns maintained St. Pat’s lead within reach in the second set. They gained their first lead of the game at 14-13, which they exchanged with the Lady Irish five times before coming away with a 25-23 win.
"It was kind of the same deal," Victory said. "We pretty much annihilated them the first set, but we relaxed a little bit the second one and they got us. The third one was real tight, but we kept showing that heart and managed to win out."
Both teams traded leads closely in the final set, but a 4-0 rally by Chase County built separation to put them up 19-15. The Irish, however, tied it at 23 apiece, overtaking Chase County 25-23 in the set to solidify their place in the championship.
St. Pat’s def. Lexington 25-18, 20-25, 25-23
Chase County def. Hershey 20-25, 25-18, 27-25
Broken Bow def. Hastings 25-13, 25-23
St. Paul def. Holdrege 25-14, 25-5
St. Paul def. Broken Bow 25-16, 25-20
St. Pat’s def. Chase County 25-13, 23-25, 25-23
Lexington def. Hershey 25-17, 25-12
Hastings def. Holdrege 25-12, 25-12
Seventh Place — Hershey def. Holdrege 25-17, 25-15
Fifth Place — Hastings def. Lexington 25-12, 25-19
Third Place — Broken Bow def. Chase County 25-13, 31-29
Championship — St. Paul def. St. Pat’s 25-18, 25-12