By ISMAEL RODRIGUEZ JR.
LINCOLN — St. Pat’s returned to the state volleyball tournament for the first time since 2012, but the taste was bittersweet.
Attempting to play the role of Cinderella, the eighth-seeded Irish put together some scoring runs and early leads in sets, but ultimately got swept by top-seeded Fremont Archbishop Bergan, 25-16, 25-20, 25-15 on Thursday in the opening round of the Class D1 tourney at Lincoln East.
Heartened by their return to the big stage, the Irish (24-9) forced a hiccup out of Bergan (31-4) to start the game, but the blazing pace of the Knights eventually caught up with them.
"Their offense was very quick," St. Pat’s head coach Shelly Byrn said. "When we thought we could set on a hitter, their setter would do a great job of moving around their offense and leave us with one back instead of two."
Bergan finished with 40 kills on 35 assists — 32 of the assists coming from starting setter Allison Dieckmann — to outpace the Irish defense, which mustered 19 digs and four blocks, a reasonably low number for them through three sets.
"Our liberos struggled with those balls because they come off so high off their hitters that we think they’ll go out, but they go straight down," Byrn said. "We haven’t seen hitters like that all season. We sometimes could stop one, but not all three hitters."
Most of St. Pat’s damage came on the offensive end, where their aggressiveness matched that of Bergan despite the scoreboard.
The Irish traded offensive runs against Bergan, outscoring them in the second set by seven points — the largest run in the game for either team — despite losing, 25-20.
The motor behind the Irish’s scoring attack came from Byrn’s senior core.
Kaleigh Kummer, Hayley Homan and Abbi Allberry led the Lady Irish, combining for 18 of the team’s 25 kills. Their efforts at the net also came on 23 total assists by another senior captain, Calli Groseth.
Those same seniors led the Irish through a 1-4 start to the season, paving the way for a 13-game winning streak to end the season — culminating with a district title and a return to Lincoln.
"These guys (Bergan) were in the Class C2 state championship last year, so they were pretty hungry," Byrn said. "But if you would’ve told me we would be back at state after six years, especially with the start that we had, I would’ve pulled on my hairs and told you I don’t know where we are going. Our seniors really did a nice job of getting the team together and raising the bar for the younger kids on the team. I hope this experience will help them remember the feeling and hopefully we can get back here again soon."
The matchup was a reunion of sorts, as Bergan head coach Sue Wewel is a St. Pat’s grad and North Platte native.
Set 1: St. Pat’s started well, taking an 8-5 lead. Bergan tied it at eight apiece, scoring three straight points. Bergan, trailing by one, went on a 5-1 run to take a 15-12 lead, forcing Byrn to use her first timeout. Unfortunately, it didn’t help as Bergan outscored the Lady Irish 10-4 to win the opening set, 25-16.
Set 2: The Irish again got ahead by two points to start the second set, but another rally by Bergan swayed the lead in their favor, 7-6. Bergan then went on a 6-0 run to stretch the lead, 13-6. The Irish answered with an 8-1 run of their own to tie the game at 14 apiece. Bergan, however, clenched to a five-point lead in the late stages to win the second set, 25-20.
Set 3: Bergan got ahead 3-0 to start the third set before the Irish tied it at 4 apiece. Yet another Bergan run — this time a 7-1 rally gave the Knights momentum. Bergan went on to outscore the Irish 14-10, completing the sweep.