The Niobrara Valley Conference tournament kicked off with a bang Monday night as Clearwater/Orchard, O'Neill St. Mary's and Ewing took the floor in the opening night of the conference tournament.
OC opened with a three-set triumph over O'Neill St. Mary's, 25-21, 25-20 and 25-23.
"It was a good start to the conference tournament," stated OC coach Sierra Summers. "I am proud of how the girls came out with of fire and a will to win."
The Lady Cyclones jumped out to a quick 9-1 lead thanks to three Katie Stearns' aces, along with three kills and two blocks by JoCee Johnston.
At 21-17, Julian Tuttle recorded her 1,000th career assist on a Stearns' kill.
"It feels really good," Tuttle said. "I've worked really hard for it and I know it's not a huge achievement for a good setter, but getting it within two years I'd say is pretty cool."
After dropping the first point in the second set, OC rattled off 10 unanswered points. Taelyn Switzer recorded four aces during the run.
Trailing by 14, the Lady Cardinals went on a 17-3 run to cut the deficit to two.
OC scored five of the final seven points and ended set with a Johnston kill.
Despite winning the last set for the sweep, the Lady Cyclones were plagued with errors. The green and black had to overcome 17 errors to win the last set and the match.
Tuttle collected 26 assists and an ace in the match. Johnston recorded a match-high 14 kills and three blocks, Stearns tallied six kills, three aces and two blocks and Switzer accounted for four aces.
"We did a really good job of talking in the first game," Tuttle noted. "We all stayed low and we knew that St. Mary's knew our weaknesses because we had played them so many times. We covered well and hit well. That really helped."
Sybil Scofield led the Lady Cardinals with eight kills, two blocks and two aces. Jadyn Eby had three kills and four aces, Abby Hedstrom added two kills, Katie Pongratz pitched in a block and an ace and Abby Everitt pitched in a kill and an ace.
OC gave the top-seeded Ewing everything they could handle, but fell in three-sets to end the "We were struggling with our passing," spoke Ewing coach Suz Funk. "We always tell them we can't use three attacks if we're struggling with out passing. OC is a good team and they took us out of system a lot of times. They were blocking well. We needed to hit the shots and the angles we practiced. They're a great team."
The Lady Cyclones punched the host Lady Tigers in the mouth to start the first set with quick 4-1 lead thanks to two kills and a block by Johnston.
"We did a really good job of not being intimidated," Tuttle said. "We knew Ewing is a really good team and they've been (good) the last couple of years. We knew it was going to be a really hard game and I'm really proud for us sticking through it so well."
Trailing by one, the Lady Tigers went on a 9-2 run in the first. Four different players recorded a kill during the run.
An 11-6 run by OC cut Ewing's lead to one, but the Lady Tigers ended the set with two kills by Ashley Koenig.
After Switzer gave the Lady Cyclones a 3-2 lead with back-to-back aces in the second set, Ewing ended the set on a 23-9 run to win the set.
"We talked about picking up the tempo of the game and running a quicker offense, so we could get them out of system and make their blockers run side-to-side," Funk said. "That helped us get some open shots."
After playing five hard-fought sets Monday night, OC ran out of steam and committed 13 errors in a 25-14 set loss to end the match.
"We came out and played really tough," Summers said. "The girls really worked hard to stay with them and continued to do what they could to earn every point. I am so proud of the effort that was put out on the floor and the way that they fought."
Johnston led the Lady Cyclones with nine kills and two blocks. Switzer added three aces and two kills, Stearns collected three kills and an ace and Tuttle contributed 18 assists.
The Lady Tigers were led by Brenna Wagner's eight kills, four aces and four blocks. Sidney Stallbaum tallied 10 kills, an ace and a block, Koenig recorded seven kills and an ace, Summer Schroeder accounted for three blocks and two aces and Tiana Thramer had four blocks and three kills.
Ewing (28-1) advances to the NVC semifinals and faces Elgin Public/Pope John Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at West Holt.
"We need to stay focused, practice and take one game at a time," Funk commented. "The NVC is a tough conference and everyone is going to bring their A game. Everybody wants to go on, so we have to prepare for every game."
Clearwater/Orchard (18-12) and O'Neill St. Mary's (4-23) bow out of the NVC tournament and participate in the sub-district tourneys next week.
"In the postseason we should be OK," Tuttle concluded. "Our sub-district is doable if we play like we played tonight. If we play like we played tonight, we should be able to get out of it. We just have to hope for the best."