The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Greg Knight
Sports Reporter 



If one thing can be said about the Lady Raiders varsity volleyball squad it is this: the team’s toughness and ability to come together has been a hallmark of its 2015 season – and it earned Sidney a Class B, District 8 championship Tuesday night.

After beating back Scottsbluff in a 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-19) battle that saw Payton Jung, Kelsey Knight and Maddi Porter combine for 34 points off kills at the net, the Lady Raiders embarked on a championship drive against Gering, winning 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 25-16) to advance to the sub-state level of playoffs this weekend.

Game 1

Sidney 3, Scottsbluff 0

The biggest story of the first game against Scottsbluff was the way Sidney’s defense contained the Lady Bearcats in the first two sets – two games where Sidney was threatened in the opening minutes of each – and the win ultimately came down to Annalise Lecher’s five blocks combined with Abbie Mills’ 25 reception and 17 digs to stop Scottsbluff in its tracks.

Another big performance for the Lady Raiders came from Emily Mahr, a senior for Sidney who recorded a stunning 38 assists, all while adding a kill and an ace.

The win set up a championship opportunity for Sidney, who would move on to the third round to face Gering, a squad that beat Alliance, 3-2, in the second game of the night.

Game 2

Gering 3, Alliance 2

Gering was able to overcome an offensive push by Alliance to take the 3-2 win and earn a shot at traveling to the state championships. To get there, however, Gering would have to get past Sidney.

Fortunately for the Lady Raiders, that didn’t happen.

Game 3

Sidney 3, Gering 1

If Gering was tired after an arduous, five-game match with Alliance, it sure didn’t show it; the Lady Bulldogs put up a huge fight against Sidney in the championship match, staying almost even with the Lady Raiders in the first two sets – and even winning the third set in a 25-21 battle that saw Sidney trail for the first and only time in the match.

At point for the Lady Raiders was Lecher. After the game she said a series of errors led to the loss in third set, though a discussion with head coach Sarah Wilson turned the game around headed into the fourth and decisive game.

“I think we fell in that third set because of unforced errors and got behind as a result,” Lecher said. “At the break we talked about being intentional on everything we did and about doing what we do best, which turned it around for us.”

Knight, another junior on the squad, said Wilson’s coaching during the days before the match were integral to the win.

“Coach had us doing a lot of tipping and practice on hitting from the lines because when we do that we are a unique team that can put points up against anyone,” Knight said.

But then, it was the Lady Raiders turn to shine as they decimated the Gering defense, going up 6-1 in the fourth set, which they ultimately won, 25-16, allowing them to advance in the state playoff hunt.

Leading the charge for Sidney on offense was Porter, Jung and Alex Wamsley, three Lady Raiders who combined for 41 kills at the net, as well as Mahr, who added a pair of aces.

Lecher and Wamsley combined for five blocks as well during the game, which was a huge factor on the defensive side given Gering’s propensity to attempt kills against the Lady Raiders.

The defensive game

It is said that defense wins championships and, ultimately, it was the combination of four Sidney players – Knight, Porter, Mahr and Mills – that made the difference in the game by combining for 89 digs.

The overall leader for the Lady Raiders was Knight with 31, though Porter followed her closely with 26 and the Mahr-Mills combo added another 17 each.

Mahr also led in setting for the Lady Raiders, with 44. She also recorded two receptions.

The Abbie Mills factor

One of the comments that could be heard throughout the gym, from a number of Sidney fans, teachers and students, was that junior libero Abbie Mills is the positivity and motivation behind the team when the going gets tough.

One parent even said that she is “the most positive force on the court” during volleyball and basketball season.

When asked about how she can exude such a positive outlook, even when her team is down, Mills said she takes her role as a teammate seriously – and that she always works hard to be a driving force, win or lose.

“My role, on any team, has always been to be the one who is the loudest and most supportive,” Mills said. “As the libero I see the entire court better than anyone else since I am in the middle, so it is my goal to support my teammates and be the person who always makes sure they know what is going on. Bringing happiness and positivity is what I try to do in every game as well.”

Up next, Aurora

Sidney, now at 17-15 overall and 6-0 in district standings, will travel to Aurora on Saturday for the next round of playoff action.

The Aurora Lady Huskies are 28-6 overall and 8-3 in District B-6.


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