KEARNEY — The S-E-M Mustangs will play for the Fort Kearny Conference volleyball tournament championship Thursday night.
The Pleasanton Bulldogs will not.
The Mustangs will face Overton, a finals regular, Thursday night at Kearney Catholic’s Cope Coliseum after the Eagles eliminated the Bulldogs, the four-time defending champions, 25-16, 25-17, 25-20, Tuesday at KCHS.
S-E-M, meanwhile, defeated second-seeded Amherst, 25-12, 29-27, 25-21, to make the finals for the first time in a long, long time.
“I don’t know, honest to goodness,” said S-E-M coach Tammy Kenton, who played on a state tournament Mustang squad in the 1980. “I know we were in the finals, but that’s ancient history.”
Amherst coach Jonie Fader would have been on the next S-E-M powerhouse and the Mustangs reportedly won the conference title in 1988 and finished second in 1989, but a gap exists in the records for the 1990s.
No matter, the Mustangs had reason to celebrate.
“The girls just played their hearts out,” Kenton said. “We had a quote at the beginning of the season that was, ‘The successful team beats with one heart,’ and they literally took it to heart and just played together.”
The Mustangs, who lost to Amherst in four sets on Sept 14, vaulted to an early lead in the first set, fought through a tough second set, then rallied in the third set from an 18-13 deficit to close the victory.
Sophomore Mikah O’Neill led the Mustangs with 15 kills, two blocks and two ace serves. Senior Faith Hernandez had nine kills and three ace serves. And senior Mattison Beattie had six ace serves.
“Our serving was very good. They hit the targets that Coach (Misty) Freeman was giving them and if you want to beat a good team like Amherst, you have to keep them out of system and not have them pound the ball at you. Fortunately, we were able to do that tonight.”
Sophomore Hannah Herrick led Amherst with 15 kills while Tenley Hadwiger had nine. Hadwiger also had three ace serves and a block.
S-E-M finished with a 12-5 advantage in ace serves and a 46-35 edge in kills.
“It honestly could have gone either way. Amherst is a great team and we were just better tonight,” Kenton said.
Overton (22-4) took control early, riding the right arm of JoLee Ryan.
Ryan finished with 23 kills and sparked to early rallies that pushed the Eagles to a 10-5 lead in the first set. Another run made it 15-6 and Overton was in control.
Kenzie Scheele scored another seven kills and Natalie Wood had six kills as Overton advanced to the championship game for the sixth straight year. The Eagles won the tournament in 2016 before Pleasanton started its four-year dominance of the league.