Season ends at Districts Gering Bulldogs volleyball team can’t overcome Sidney
     2015-11-12      By The Gering Citizen    editor@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Greg Knight/Sidney Sun-Telegraph Sidney’s Annalise Lecher gets a scoring block against Gering junior Mariah Conn at the B District 8 Championship hosted by the Red Raiders on Nov. 3. Sidney and wildcard entry Alliance, a team Gering beat in the semi-finals advanced to Sub-State, where both teams lost in the first round 
Although the Gering Bulldogs volleyball team did not repeat as district champions this year, they showed a familiar grit and determination. Capping off a 38-match season, the grind came to an end against rival the Sidney Red Raiders at the Class B, District 8 Championship Tournament on Nov. 3 hosted by the Lady Raiders.

“We played well throughout most of the match but ran out of gas in the last set,” said Gering Head Coach David Lashley. “The referees gave us only a five-minute turnaround time after a hard fought first match (against Alliance). So, we had to jump right back into playing. I thought the players handled it well and played a good match. It really had a lot in common with the first match in that was a tough battle. I was very proud of our kids and pleased with way they played.”

Against the Alliance Bulldogs, Gering won 3-2 (25-22, 13-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-9).

Both the Lady Raiders, who won the Class B, District 8 title and Alliance came up one match short of going to the state tournament last week at the Class B Sub-State tourney on Saturday (Nov. 7). Sidney fell to fourth-seeded Aurora, and the 15th seeded Alliance team fell to Gretna. Although the Alliance Bulldogs were semi-final losers at Districts, and though Gering beat them in two head-to-head matches leading up to the decisive tourney, Alliance advanced to the Sub-State tournament based on points collected from opponents played during the regular season – a strength-of-schedule factor.

Gering ended the season with a 16-22 overall record, and 4-4 in Districts. However, Gering didn’t win enough regular season matches down the stretch to make a difference in determining advancement.

In recapping district action, after Sidney beat back Scottsbluff in a 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-19) battle that saw Payton Jung, Kelsey Knight and Maddi Porter combine for 34 points off kills at the net, the Lady Raiders embarked on a championship drive against Gering, winning 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 25-16).

Match 1: Sidney 3, Scottsbluff 0

The biggest story of the first game against Scottsbluff was the way Sidney’s defense contained the Lady Bearcats in the first two sets – two games where Sidney was threatened in the opening minutes of each – and the win ultimately came down to Annalise Lecher’s five blocks combined with Abbie Mills’ 25 reception and 17 digs to stop Scottsbluff in its tracks.

Another big performance for the Lady Raiders came from Emily Mahr, a senior for Sidney who recorded a stunning 38 assists, all while adding a kill and an ace.

The win set up a championship opportunity for Sidney, who would move on to the third round to face Gering, a squad that beat Alliance, 3-2, in the second game of the night.

Match 2: Gering 3, Alliance 2

Gering was able to overcome an offensive push by Alliance to take the 3-2 win and earn a shot at traveling to the state championships. To get there, however, Gering would have to get past Sidney.

“It was hard fought match and we were very pleased to get the win,” Lashley said. “Alliance has improved a lot since the first time we played them and should have a solid future. I was extremely pleased with the way our players recovered from a very poor second set to get back on top of Alliance and win the match.”

Match 3: Sidney 3, Gering 1

If Gering was tired after an arduous, five-game match with Alliance, it sure didn’t show it.

The Lady Bulldogs put up a huge fight against Sidney in the championship match, staying almost even with the Lady Raiders in the first two sets – and even winning the third set in a 25-21 battle that saw Sidney trail for the first and only time in the match.

At point for the Lady Raiders was Lecher. After the game she said a series of errors led to the loss in third set, though a discussion with head coach Sarah Wilson turned the game around headed into the fourth and decisive set.

“I think we fell in that third set because of unforced errors and got behind as a result,” Lecher said. “At the break we talked about being intentional on everything we did and about doing what we do best, which turned it around for us.”

Knight, another junior on the squad, said Wilson’s coaching during the days before the match were integral to the win.

“Coach had us doing a lot of tipping and practice on hitting from the lines because when we do that we are a unique team that can put points up against anyone,” Knight said.

But then, it was the Lady Raiders turn to shine as they decimated the Gering defense, going up 6-1 in the fourth set, which they ultimately won, 25-16, allowing them to advance in the state playoff hunt.

Leading the charge for Sidney on offense was Porter, Jung and Alex Wamsley, three Lady Raiders who combined for 41 kills at the net, as well as Mahr, who added a pair of aces.

Lecher and Wamsley combined for five blocks as well during the game, which was a huge factor on the defensive side given Gering’s propensity to attempt kills against the Lady Raiders.

Defensive game

It is said that defense wins championships and, ultimately, it was the combination of four Sidney players – Knight, Porter, Mahr and Mills – that made the difference in the game by combining for 89 digs.

The overall leader for the Lady Raiders was Knight with 31, though Porter followed her closely with 26 and the Mahr-Mills combo added another 17 each.

Mahr also led in setting for the Lady Raiders, with 44. She also recorded two receptions.

The Abbie Mills factor

One of the comments that could be heard throughout the gym, from a number of Sidney fans, teachers and students, was that junior libero Abbie Mills is the positivity and motivation behind the team when the going gets tough.

One parent even said that she is “the most positive force on the court” during volleyball and basketball season.

When asked about how she can exude such a positive outlook, even when her team is down, Mills said she takes her role as a teammate seriously – and that she always works hard to be a driving force, win or lose.

“My role, on any team, has always been to be the one who is the loudest and most supportive,” Mills said. “As the libero I see the entire court better than anyone else since I am in the middle, so it is my goal to support my teammates and be the person who always makes sure they know what is going on. Bringing happiness and positivity is what I try to do in every game as well.”

Sidney ended its season at 17-16 overall and 6-0 in district standings.

Frank Marquez contributed to this report.

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