LINCOLN — Mullen battled back from a slow start to outlast Chambers/Wheeler Central, earning the school’s first victory at the state volleyball tournament on Thursday at Lincoln Southeast.
The Class D2 No. 3 seed Broncos (28-3) lost the first set, 25-20, but willed themselves to three straight victories — 25-21, 25-23, 25-22 — over the sixth-seeded Renegades (25-8) to close the door on a possible upset.
"We knew it would be a tough game," Mullen head coach Belinda Coble said. "We honestly play a lot like each other and have more than one person that you can depend on to hit the ball."
Both teams played an aggressive game on the offensive end, which oftentimes led to both electrifying kills and noticeable errors.
CWC finished with 45 kills — 12 more than Mullen’s 33 — but over 30 errors on their side allowed a struggling, yet dangerous Mullen team to find their footing after losing the first set. Both teams finished the game with over 20 combined serving errors.
Part of the issue, as Coble admitted, came from within.
"I told them to relax," Coble said. "They were full of nerves, a little bit of the big stage jitters, and needed to relax and play our game. We still got beat short angle, and they’ve struggled with that all year, but it’s about making it happen and they did."
Getting beat on the short angle kept CWC in it despite the errors as Mullen gave up a match-high 22 kills to CWC’s Taylor Peter and often allowed leads — including a nine-point cushion in the fourth set — to dissipate.
But once the Broncos got going, they managed to hold off CWC’s offensive attack.
Alysen Daniels led Mullen with 10 kills and nine digs, while Haley Jones posted 23 assists — including the match-clinching assist.
The win, although not pretty, allows the Broncos to fix their errors going into the next round, where they’ll play second-seeded Bruning-Davenport/Shickley on Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"They’re a lot like (CWC), and I’m not going to sugarcoat it," Coble said. "It’ll be another tough game for us, so hopefully we can swing one ball at a time and make good things happen."
Set 1: The Broncos got off to a slow start riddled with defensive errors, which led to a quick 9-3 lead for CWC. Mullen got their footing after a brief timeout, going on a 4-0 run of their own, trimming the lead down to 9-7. They then cut it down to one at 10-9 before a 6-1 rally by the Renegades stretched the gap to 16-10. CWC held off another 3-0 run by Mullen that cut the lead down to four, 22-18, to win the first set, 25-20.
Set 2: Mullen clung to a slim one-point lead heading into the middle stages of the set, 11-10, before CWC took it at 12-11. The Renegades took the lead three more times in the set, going up one each time, but it wasn’t enough. Mullen outscored CWC 7-2 to end the second set, 25-21, and tie the match 1-1.
Set 3: With the momentum shifting after the second set, Mullen quickly jumped ahead 9-3 in the third. CWC answered with a 5-0 run to trim it down to one, 9-8. After two errors CWC following their rally, Mullen regained some cushion to go up 13-9. Mullen then fell on the opposite end of a 6-1 run to lose the lead, 15-14. They bounced back to go up 18-15 on more CWC errors. The Renegades cut the lead to one, 23-22, but Mullen pulled out the 25-23 set win to take a 2-1 match lead.
Set 4: The Broncos jumped ahead 5-1 and stretched it to as many as nine before CWC answered with a run of their own to tie it 19-19. The Broncos outscored CWC 6-3 to win the set, 25-22 and the match, 3-1.
» For more state volleyball coverage, see page B3.