Clark’s Corner, 11/8: Grand Island Central Catholic conquered Class C-1 volleyball this year, giving legendary coach Sharon Zavala her 11th state championship.
Grand Island Central Catholic was on the verge of taking a two-set lead before Gothenburg took the final four rallies to even Saturday’s state volleyball championship match at a set apiece.
It didn’t take long for the Crusaders to rebound. Taking on the personality of their head coach, GICC players stayed calm and collected and took the next two sets to conquer Class C-1.
The Crusaders rushed the court following Avery Kelly’s clinching kill. Even in celebration, Sharon Zavala remained composed and steady. For the longtime volleyball legend, it was career win No. 1,151 and state title No. 11. Yes, 11!
“It’s nice to have one more. I’m a little greedy, maybe,” Zavala quipped moments after a four-set win against Gothenburg.
Only one coach – John Petersen won 15 at Columbus Scotus – has won more state volleyball titles than Zavala, who matched Joanne Kappas. Kappas won 11 crowns at Bellevue West, most of those in the 1990s.
More than 1,100 career wins. Eleven state championships. It adds up to the most distinguished career in a sport known for a growing number of great prep coaches. To think, Zavala was going to give coaching basketball and track a shot before she was talked into taking over GICC’s volleyball program 48 seasons ago. Her base knowledge of the sport at the time was what she picked up coaching league games while attending UNL.
Zavala said she plans to return for a 49th season. How much longer will she coach after that? Maybe Zavala is the only one that knows.
And that’s what sweetens this year’s state title run for her players.
“It feels awesome,” said senior Gracie Woods, who was a student manager for Zavala before getting to high school. “Just to do it for her, I know it’s probably coming down to her last few years at Central Catholic maybe, but it feels great.
“She means the world to us and we’re just happy to be under her and have her as our coach.”
GICC wins 3-1 over Gothenburg.
— Mike Sautter (@MikeSautter_) November 5, 2022
Clearly, Zavala can teach volleyball with the best of them. She instills confidence and a sense of calm. But there’s more to her. Senior Lucy Ghaifan said Zavala can lighten the mood with her humor. Her hunger to win hasn’t faded either.
“(Zavala is) a fearless leader out there,” Woods said. “She’s always helping us out, and she always has the goal of winning. She’s a competitor and that makes us competitive, too.”
GICC’s first state title under Zavala came in 1981. Ten more titles have followed. Now Zavala and the Crusaders aim for a cool dozen.
Elite Eight for Skutt
Omaha Skutt entered state having won seven straight Class B championships (a state record). Still, the SkyHawks entered rare ground Saturday. Skutt had never been pushed to five sets in a state final until this year. Elkhorn North took a 2-1 lead before the SkyHawks rallied for a 25-20, 23-25, 14-25, 25-16, 15-11 thrilling win.
When the dust settled, Skutt players held up eight fingers while posing with the hardware.
Props to Renee Saunders and her staff for getting the team ready. Elkhorn North clearly had the talent to end the streak. Led by seniors Morgan Burke and Ivy Leuck, Skutt didn’t falter, using earlier five-set matches to prepare them for Saturday.
Skutt wins the fifth 15-11.
— Mike Sautter (@MikeSautter_) November 6, 2022
Speaking of dynasties …
Katie Tarman is building one on the southwest end of the Metro.
Papillion-La Vista South powered its way to a four-set win against Omaha Westside to claim a third state title in four years (add a runner-up finish in 2020). This year’s run follows last year’s 40-0 campaign, meaning the Titans are 73-4 in their previous 77 matches.
Papio South will have big shoes to fill after the departures of seniors Stella Adeyemi and Shealie Wiebers. A lot of talent is set to return, though, including junior Lauren Medeck.
— Mike Sautter (@MikeSautter_) November 6, 2022
The best pound-for-pound tournament
State basketball, state wrestling, state football finals at Memorial Stadium, and state soccer with downtown Omaha as a backdrop are special in their own ways.
But when it comes to depth of talent and level of play from top to bottom, state volleyball is at the top. Just look at the list of DI recruits each year.
I mean, right out of the chute Saturday, we saw a 42-kill performance from Grace Baumert of Howells-Dodge. The lower classes are producing Division I- and II-caliber players and it shows over four days in Lincoln.
We saw three thrilling five-set matches, and the Class A final was very entertaining.
Where can state volleyball catch up to state hoops? Championship-match attendance.
I was somewhat surprised that there were not more people at the final three matches Saturday, especially with Nebraska football complete by 2:30 p.m.
The matches, of course, are on TV, and it didn’t help that the Class A final start time was pushed to around 9 p.m. You’re also competing against college football on TV.
Still, volleyball’s popularity in this state doesn’t always reflect in the crowds on Championship Saturday, and it should.
The product is great. The venue is great. The matches are great. What else can be done to boost the numbers?