PLEASANTON — This time, they hope, it will be different.
This time, the Pleasanton Bulldogs hope they will bring home the championship trophy.
They broke through the semifinal ceiling in basketball last March, a psychological barrier removed more than anything.
“They’ve been in the big game in basketball last year and they kind of got over the hump we’ve experienced in volleyball the last couple years. I think that’s going to help a huge amount come this weekend,” said Pleasanton volleyball coach Shane Nordby.
The Bulldogs begin their state tournament push — the third for this year’s seniors — at 2 p.m. Thursday against Johnson-Brock, the team that beat them in the third-place game two years ago.
This year, at least on paper, looks different.
The Bulldogs are 30-0, the No. 1-ranked team in the state and the top seed in the Class D1 bracket. Johnson-Brock, 20-11, is the eighth seed in the bracket. The Eagles have won six of their last seven, including a 3-0 sweep of Kenesaw.
The Eagles have made 10 state tournament appearances and they have four state championship trophies, including three from 2015 to 2017.
“Every year they’re up there in expectations and in the rankings,” Nordby said.
Pleasanton has lost just two sets all season — to Class C1 power Grand Island Central Catholic and to Amherst, the No. 6 seed in the D1 bracket.
“The girls have a mindset going in that this is what they want and this is how it’s going to happen. And, they’ve been working that way all season. ... We don’t expect anything. We go out and work hard every day in practice,” Nordby said.
Several of the seniors have played key roles in Pleasanton’s four-year run of success. Six-foot senior Katy Lindner is a two-time Kearney Hub Player of the year. Isabelle Paitz, a 5-9 outside hitter, has been at her side throughout the four-year run. Natalie Siegel has been on the floor even though this is her first year as the main setter, and Kaci Pierce and Kinsey Lindner have played their roles.
“They’re really focused on what we’re doing and what we can do to cause trouble for other teams and what we can do to do the best we can do down there,” Nordby said.
The result is a team that Nordby believes has been playing at a higher level all season long.
“I remember saying at the beginning of the season that I was scared at how well they were playing,” he said. “Their skill level and execution level were much higher to start the season than where we’ve been at the start of the season the last two years.”
Pleasanton is one of three Fort Kearny Conference teams playing Thursday in the state tournament.
In Class C2, Overton (26-2) is the second seed and will take on Guardian Angels Central Catholic. Overton’s only losses this year are to Pleasanton.
The Eagles qualified for the state tournament last year but lost in the first round to Archbishop Bergan.
Guardian Angels is making its 19th state tournament appearance and has four championship, three runner-up and three third place trophies. The Bluejays were last in the state tournament in 2016, finishing fourth in Class D1.
Amherst, in the state tournament for the third time, faces Archbishop Bergan, the team that has beaten Pleasanton in the semifinals the last two years,
Bergan doesn’t have any wins over Class A teams like last year, but the Knights have defeated Class B Schuyler and South Sioux City.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!