Elecea Saathoff lofted the ball over her head to teammate Sophie Wohlgemuth, who delivered the championship-clinching kill for Lincoln Lutheran.
It was a perfect set, and for Saathoff, another perfect touch to a high school volleyball season.
Lincoln Lutheran capped a dominating 40-0 season with a sweep of Archbishop Bergan in the Class C-2 state final Saturday at the Devaney Sports Center. It was a familiar feeling for Saathoff, who left with a fourth state gold medal.
It’s rare for an athlete to say they were part of four state championship teams. It’s really rare. Saathoff’s four-peat is more unique. The 5-foot-10 senior won four crowns with two different teams and in four different classes.
She was on the 2019 and 2020 Diller-Odell teams that won state titles. Two more have followed after moving to Lincoln with Mom.
“From Diller-Odell to here, it was a big change to me,” Saathoff said. “Coming into Lincoln Lutheran, I was kind of nervous – I didn’t know how much I’d be playing or anything. But this team really accepted me, and it’s really become part of who I am.
“This is a really big family for me now.”
Lincoln Lutheran wins the third set 25-15 and the match 3-0 over Bergan.
— Mike Sautter (@MikeSautter_) November 5, 2022
Making the move
Diller-Odell won a Class D-1 state title in 2019. Saathoff was a middle hitter for the Griffins in their run to a D-2 crown in 2020.
A big family decision followed.
Saathoff’s mother had been driving from Diller to Lincoln each day for work for 10 years. To cut down on the commute, she moved to Lincoln. That opened the door for Saathoff to go to school in the Capital City.
“(My mom) kind of needed a change,” Saathoff said of the three hours of driving each day. “I knew (Lincoln Lutheran senior) Abby (Wachal) because we played club together since our 13s year, so I went to Lincoln Lutheran and it was a great fit for me.”
Adapting to a new class
Enrolling at Lincoln Lutheran gave Saathoff the chance to play for one of the top programs in the state. Competing in Class C-1 – and C-2 this year – meant Saathoff had to adjust to playing against stronger competition, including the ultra-competitive Centennial Conference. She adapted well.
“Elecea does all the right things,” Lincoln Lutheran coach Sue Ziegler said. “She trains all offseason and during the season, and she’s very coachable.”
Saathoff adapt well to her new school, but she also acclimated to whatever role the Warriors needed her to play. She was a right-side hitter last year – the Warriors won the Class C-1 state title – before sliding over to her natural position, setter, this season. Because Diller-Odell had a Division I setter in Addison Heidemann, Saathoff didn’t play setter until her senior year.
Saathoff’s confidence received a boost from working with assistant coach Michelle Sjuts, a former Husker who works with the Warriors’ setters. The senior entered the state tournament with 832 set assists and 93 kills. She had 30 assists and 24 digs in Lutheran’s 25-18, 25-22, 25-15 win against Bergan on Saturday.
Pursuit of four
When did Saathoff, a team captain, think four state championships were possible?
Well, it almost didn’t happen. Diller-Odell had to rally in the fifth set to beat CWC in 2020. When Saathoff got to Lincoln Lutheran, coaches told her the team had the potential to win in 2021.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to go for three?’ That’s cool!” she said. “And (last) summer I was like, ‘No, there’s no chance … we’ll go to state, but I don’t think (we’ll win it).’ And after we beat Waverly (in the season-opener) I was like, ‘This is going to be a great team.’”
Saathoff’s fourth gold medal hung around her neck after recalling her prep career. It will soon join the other three hanging up in her room at home.
There were tears and smiles moments after Saturday’s win. Saathoff and Wachal made time to share a hug at the end of the bench as they awaited the trophy presentation.
A family moment that Saathoff will not soon forget.
“My coaches have really built me up to this moment,” Saathoff said. “And then all my teammates have been really supportive along the way.”