LINCOLN — Increasing the strength of its regular-season schedule appears to be paying postseason dividends for Omaha Duchesne.
The fourth-ranked Cardinals are one win away from their second appearance in three years in the Class B final after Thursday’s 25-12, 25-18, 25-19 first-round victory over No. 5 Sidney at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Duchesne advanced to Friday’s 7 p.m. semifinal against Waverly.
Duchesne entered as the sixth seed after playing a slate that left coach Andrew Wehrli’s team with 17 losses.
“I think it has made us a lot more consistent,” said Wehrli, who is in his fifth season with the Cardinals. “We have been trying to move our tournament schedule around the past several years because we’ve been playing some good teams, but not a lot of good teams — it has kind of been a mix.
“I just felt like we have never really been forced to be consistent all the time and this year that has been our theme.”
Kaitlyn Knobbe had seven kills and six blocks to lead Duchesne (22-17). Sofia Bressani finished with 20 digs and Kaitlin Neely had nine assists.
Mattie Johnson had 10 kills for the Lady Raiders (32-4). Nicole Birner added 16 assists and 11 digs and Sarah Wamsley had 14 digs for Sidney, which struggled to defend the quickness of Duchesne’s attack.
“Their serves were, obviously, pretty tough,” Sidney coach Marcus Ehrke said. “We were out of system, it seemed like the entire night. Duchesne’s tempo was fairly quick — definitely the quickest that we had seen all season.
“Defensively, it catches you off-guard at times and it’s difficult to react when you’re not used to it.”
Ehrke said that the Lady Raiders, who last appeared at state in 2016, seemed to struggle with the amped-up atmosphere at PBA. Despite the loss, Ehrke said he’s proud of his squad.
“We had a school record for wins this year, many individual records broken and it was a great season,” Ehrke said. “This one loss doesn’t define how great of a year we had. It was our No. 1 goal to get down here and not a lot of teams can say they ended their season in Lincoln.”
Wehrli credited his senior class for holding the Cardinals together as they navigated their schedule.
“The collective leadership of this group really allowed us to tie up our boots a little harder and get after it when it wasn’t going well,” Wehrli said. “The last three weeks, we have been grinding. It has been three of the hardest weeks we’ve had, practice-wise, but the seniors have led us and they’ve fought pretty hard this year.”
Sidney (32-4) 12 18 19
Omaha Duchesne (22-17) 25 25 25
S (kills-aces-blocks): Brynna Ross 0-1-0, Logan Holly 3-3-3, Mattie Johnson 10-0-1, Alecca Campbell 0-0-1, Nicole Birner 2-1-0, Kendra Nesbbitt 1-0-0, Karly Sylvester 2-0-0. Totals 18-5-5.
OD (kills-aces-blocks): Kaitlyn Knobbe 7-0-6, Allison Brown 1-0-3, Caroline Ortman 3-0-3, Jocelyn Healy 0-3-0, Mayah Delgado Walker 3-1-2, Kiersten Capelle 0-0-0, Kaitlin Neely 1-4-0, Mary Taylor 6-3-0, Kobie Patten 5-0-0. Totals 26-11-14.
Set assists: S 16 (Birner 16), OD 26 (Neely 9, Capelle 7, Sofia Bressani 4, Healy 3, Delgado Walker 2, Abigail Brester 1).