PAPILLION – Top-ranked and undefeated Papillion-LaVista will square off with #3 Omaha Marian for the fifth time this season tonight in the Metro Conference championship on the Monarchs’ home court. The best-of-five match is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
The previous four meetings have all been unique except in the final outcome. The two teams met for the first time this season in the Bellevue Invitational semifinals on Sept. 6 with the Monarchs taking a 2-1 victory and establishing itself as the top team in the state in the process.
Papillion-LaVista swept the Crusaders 2-0 the next two times they played – once in the Lincoln Public Schools Classic and the other in a dominate performance on Marian’s home court in a triangular.
The beating Marian took from Papillion-LaVista on the night of Oct. 14, however, seems to have been a turning point for the Crusaders. Four days later, Marian looked like it had the Monarchs on the ropes before Papillion-LaVista escaped with an 18-25, 25-23, 25-19, 12-25, 15-7 win in the Omaha Westside Invitational championship match.
Papillion-LaVista has had its way with teams a vast majority of the year in rattling off 37 wins to start the year. Only four times this year have the Monarchs even needed to play a decisive set – twice against Marian and once against Papillion-LaVista South and Lincoln East. The Monarchs have barely broken a sweat en route to the Metro final, sweeping all five of its opponents by a combined score of 250-125.
While the tangible stakes tonight obviously center on a conference title, you get a feeling that it’s the intangibles resulting from tonight’s outcome that will resonate throughout Class A. The Monarchs have been a ruthless leader thus far on the court – squashing any questions of its superiority during its run that could become historic.
Yet, like a pesky nemesis that simply won’t go away, here comes defending Class A champion Omaha Marian back at Papillion-LaVista for a fifth shot. You get the feeling that tonight is the opportunity for Marian to serve notice that it is not ready to surrender it reign as a state champion. And, if the Crusaders can win, it breathes life into the pursuit for the Class A title – not only for themselves for the rest of the Class A field.
You also get the feeling that this is Papillion-LaVista’s opportunity to show it is still on a level of its own. It’s a senior-led team that acts loose and plays loose. The Monarchs have had an unassuming swagger and focus this entire season that has never waivered. If the Monarchs withstand Marian’s best shot tonight, it becomes really difficult to picture anyone else hoisting the trophy three Saturdays from now at Bob Devaney Sports Center.
So, who wins tonight’s match? It’s a great question. We don’t have an answer, but here are three keys to tonight’s Metro Conference final.
Papillion-LaVista’s Block vs. Omaha Marian’s Hitters
The consistent quality of the Monarchs’ block has been a huge contributor to their success this year. Senior Midland University recruit Priscilla O’Dowd, a 6-foot-1 middle, is very athletic with an uncanny ability to get touches. O’Dowd, 6-foot-5 sophomore Steph Gaston and freshman Sydney Fitzgibbons have had a hand in 299 blocks this year. The Monarchs’ block has allowed their back row to blossom this year. In its last meeting with Papillion-LaVista, Marian had some success running ones (quick sets to the middle). In the four meetings, Marian has been outblocked 39-16. If Kelsey O’Connell and Elise Duryea can combine for 15+ kills tonight, it bodes well for the Crusaders. If Marian’s offense is fast, it can beat the Papillion-LaVsita block – if it isn’t, the Monarch block will be dominant again.
Katie Stephens vs. Sophia Terwilleger
In the five-set match on Oct. 18, these two traded big shot after big shot. Stephens and Terwilleger are two of the state’s best full-rotation juniors in the state. Both are 5-foot-9, both have similar games and they’ve both been stuck in Beast Mode the past month for their respective teams. In the four matches against each other, Stephens has had 42 kills – including 20 in the last match. Terwilleger, meanwhile, has had 46 kills in the four matches – including 23 the last time. Big-time matches are generally won by big-time players. Both Stephens and Terwilleger are capable of putting a team on their shoulders. This match could come down to which big-time player makes the biggest play at the biggest moment.
Elena Melendez vs. Elizabeth Loschen
Both Melendez and Loschen are well established Class A players. Melendez is a Drake recruit and Loschen, a junior, was one of the most important pieces in Marian’s state tournament run last year. The success of each of these players tonight is the battle within the battle. In the two matches when Papillion-LaVista swept Omaha Marian, Melendez averaged 3.25 kills a set – her season average is 2.0 per set. In the two matches when Marian pushed the Monarchs to a decisive set, Loschen averaged 2.9 kills a set while averaging 1.5 in the other two matches. Whoever has the upper hand tonight between Melendez and Loschen, it will bode well for their respective team.
Papillion-LaVista def. Omaha Marian 25-17, 22-25, 25-16
Papillion-LaVista def. Omaha Marian 25-20, 25-23
Papillion-LaVista def. Omaha Marian 25-21, 25-15
Papillion-LaVista def. Omaha Marian 18-25, 25-23, 25-19, 12-25, 15-7
Papillion-LaVista Omaha Marian
Katie Stephens 349 Sophia Terwilleger 314
Priscilla O’Dowd 347 Elizabeth Loschen 287
Elena Melendez 158 Hannah Mueller 231
Sydney Fitzgibbons 119 Kelsey O’Connell 129
Steph Gaston 109 Kate Ruffalo 114
Meledez 39 Brittany Witt 40
Jess Peters 35 Terwilleger 38
McKenzie Michalek 19 Maren McGuire 31
Ellie McDonnell 17 Andie Hanus 28
Stephens 15 Elise Duryea 20
O’Dowd 133 Loschen 48
Gaston 86 Ruffalo 32
Fitzgibbons 50 O’Connell 28
Peters 47 Duryea 27
Stephens 43 Terwilleger & Mueller 19
McDonnell 374 Witt 594
Stephens 316 Terwilleger 386
Melendez 292 Hanus 292
Peters 279 McGuire 246
Michalek 199 Mary Katherine Wolfe 123
Peters 1036 McGuire 853
Melendez 42 Lily Heim 303
Stephens 27 Witt 48