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Calm, cool, collected. Centennial sweeps Cross County to earn trip to district final

Calm, cool, collected. Centennial sweeps Cross County to earn trip to district final


News-Times/Steve Marik

Centennial senior Kate Hirschfeld recorded 15 kills while leading her team to the C2-7 subdistrict championship over Cross County on Tuesday night in Utica. The Broncos advance to a district final on Saturday.

UTICA — A match last year may have set the tone for Tuesday night’s C2-7 subdistrict final between the Centennial Broncos and Cross County Cougars.

The two teams met in a semifinal of a subdistrict in Wahoo in 2019, and the Cougars beat the Broncos 3-1 to end their season. Centennial made sure that wasn’t the case this season, however, as it swept Cross County on Tuesday night behind scores of 25-17, 25-13 and 25-19.

Last season’s match against the Cougars was on the Broncos’ mind. That was by design, head coach Alex Anstine said.

“Our pregame speech was, ‘Let’s think back to last year at this time, in the locker room when we lost. Remember that feeling? Let’s make them feel that way.’” Anstine said. “I was probably more nervous than they were today. They were loose, calm. They were like, ‘We got this.’”

Led by the solid setting of senior Jaci Opfer, Centennial’s hitters had good balls to hit all night. Senior Kate Hirschfeld led her team with 15 kills while seniors Jaycee Stuhr and Kiley Rathjen added 10 and seven, respectively.

It was a complete team effort, according to Anstine.

“I really thought it was an all-around performance,” she said. “Kate obviously produced well for us. I thought Jaycee had some great swings. Kiley got involved. Karley (Naber) had some key swings for us. I just thought our offense was clicking. I’m proud of every one of them.”

It wasn’t easy for the Broncos, however. Cross County senior and Midland University volleyball commit, Cortlyn Schaefer, notched an unofficial match-high of 17 kills while 6-foot-1 senior Erica Stratman had 11, seven of which came in the third set.

Schaefer posed a problem, and Anstine knew it. But the Broncos came into the match with a game plan for the heavy hitter.

“She’s a great hitter — defensively too, she’s just an all-around player,” Anstine said of the 5-11 Schaefer. “I told the girls that they’re never going to stop her completely, but if we can start getting some touches on her ball, slowing it down, and maybe making her adjust so our defense can read her better and just make plays, we’re going to have a great chance.

“I thought she had some great kills, but we did a nice job of getting some touches on her. Then our offensive players were able to put the ball away when we had that chance to dig her up.”

With Centennial nursing a 16-14 lead in the third, the Broncos turned up the heat and made a run to seal the sweep. Hirschfeld connected on three straight kills, then added an ace serve to put her team on top 20-15, which forced Cross County to take a timeout.

Schaefer came out of the timeout with a purpose, and smacked back-to-back kills to cut the Cougars’ deficit to 20-17. The Cross County momentum didn’t last, however.

Kills from Stuhr and Rathjen followed a couple Cougar attacks that went into the net and out of bounds. Rathjen had the final kill at the net to end the match.

Tuesday night was the second time Centennial swept Cross County, as the Broncos did so back on Oct. 6 in Stromsburg.

Centennial will wait to see where and who it will play in a district final on Saturday.

Cross County (22-10) 17 13 19 — 0

At Centennial (21-11) 25 25 25 — 3

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