“Anyone can support a team that is winning. It takes no courage. But to stand behind a team when it is down and really needs you, that takes a lot of courage.” — Bart Starr
BLUE HILL — Blue Hill volleyball coach Kristi Allen knew she had a pretty good nucleus of girls coming back from last year’s state tournament team.
So, it’s safe to say that she was excited for the 2017 version of her Bobcats. And, at 26-5 and earning the fourth-seed in the Class D-1 state tournament, Blue Hill has been anything but a disappointment to their coach.
But to say it’s been easy, would be an understatement. The Bobcats’ story is one of courage. It’s a story of loss and of bouncing back. And, most importantly, being the best teammate and friend possible.
Shirley Kort, coach Allen’s mom, was the Bobcats’ biggest fan. She’d been watching most of these girls play whatever — basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball — since they were little. She was a leader in the Blue Hill community.
“She came to all the games and she loved it,” Allen said. “She screamed her brains out most games.”
Senior Halee Kohmetscher echoed that sentiment.
“She was always there with us way before the games,” Kohmetscher said. “She’d come up to us in the hallways at school and tell us good luck and to kick some butt.”
When school started, Kort went in for a procedure on her gall duct.
“She was never quite right after that, but she didn’t miss any games,” Allen said. “She saw us beat St. Cecilia for the first time ever.” That was September 12th.
She was to have a procedure again and was admitted to hospital, but passed away on September 15th. On the 16th, the Bobcats split a triangular with Superior and Alma. They were 9-3 at the time.
The loss of Kort affected the team in multiple ways. A coach lost a mom. Standout Kacey Allen, the coach’s daughter, lost a grandmother. And, the players lost their biggest fan.
For the Bobcats, though, there was one player who could get them to where they are now. They needed a player, a leader, a mother-figure to hold them together.
On Mother’s Day of 2013, Halee Kohmetscher lost her mom, Laurie. She was in eighth grade. When that happens, you grow up quick. Halee and her big sister, Kristin, got a love of horses from their mom.
Kristin took this gift and ran with it. She is studying to be a vet in Iowa and will graduate in December. Next year she’ll wear the title of Miss Rodeo Nebraska. Her kid sister hopes to follow in her footsteps one day.
But, in the few days after Shirley Kort passed away, Halee Kohmestcher knew she had a bigger purpose. Her coach had lost her mom, so she made daily trips to Kristi Allen’s kindergarten room.
“I asked her many times how she made it through,” coach Allen said. “She told me, ‘That is why I am here. You have to lean on your family and friends and just keep moving forward.’”
The whole time Kohmetscher knew she was right where she needed to be. “My mom was a helper, I have always tried to do what she would do and help others.”
A week later, the Bobcats split another triangular. The lineup was set with a talented set of five juniors that “are about as competitive as you can be” coach Allen said.
Those juniors are part of this story, too.
They went back to work after losing to eventual champion Johnson-Brock in the first round at state last season. So, back they came.
Rylee Kohmetscher has led the way with 304 kills and 47 blocks, but she has plenty of help. Kacey Allen adds 287 kills, 45 aces and is second on the team with 329 digs. Emily Meyer has 146 kills, leads the team with 87 blocks and 45 aces. Jamie Bonifas is the setter (754 assists) and Brianna Danehey the libero (434 digs).
Sophomore Madison Menke and freshman Brooklyn Kohmetscher were in the rotation with Halee and fellow senior Taylor Bonifas.
In the opening game of the triangular, the Bobcats lost to Bruning-Davenport/Shickley. Allen knew it was time. She just couldn’t bring herself to make the change, couldn’t talk about it with her assistants. But she pulled the trigger against Giltner.
She needed to insert the freshman more, her seniors less. Turn them into leaders — somehow, someway — on the bench. Brooklyn Kohmetscher was just a little too talented.
Halee Kohmetscher knew it.
“I knew I had to accept my role,” the senior said. “Brooklyn is so talented and works so hard and she deserved it. But, we could still be leaders and encourage our teammates. We knew we couldn’t hit our goals unless we stayed together.”
The Bobcats have won 16 straight matches since. They have only lost five sets.
Coach Allen’s gamble had paid off, all because her seniors, who had been through much and been by her side, had shown the courage to be a great teammate.
“They are just great kids and great leaders,” coach Allen said. “They have led us all season. They are our team captains. They come to practice every day and led us there.
“Halee is our mom, our mother figure. She takes care of the girls. Taylor, she is more of a comedian. She has reminded us all season that volleyball should be fun.”
The story will end this weekend in Lincoln for Blue Hill. But, maybe, it’s just a chapter in a book of a story that will last a lifetime with a list full of lessons.
That, sure, you need a talented group of kids to win games. But, that what goes on behind the scenes might be even more important. That you need good kids and good leaders to make a team tick.
But, the Bobcats have a little more to their story of courage. They’ll have a few people watching this weekend that they won’t see, but that they might hear and feel. Halee Kohmetscher knows.
“We are excited to play,” Kohmetscher said. “I know my mom would be proud of our team and she would want us to enjoy the weekend and have as much fun as we can. We will be ready.”
You get the feeling not much can phase the Bobcats.