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DIVISION I-A VOLLEYBALL: Nikodemus leads Crusaders to first state crown

In the blink of an eye, all the bad memories left the mind of Faith Lutheran’s Cayla Nikodemus.

One minute, she was a member of a squad that had lost a semifinal match of the 2012 state tournament, and the next she was a member of the 2013 championship team.

The junior outside hitter said she wasn’t about to go down in defeat again, and she delivered on that promise with 13 kills and six digs to help the Crusaders defeat Dayton 25-13, 25-18, 26-24 in the Division I-A championship match Saturday at Green Valley.

“We were devastated last year,” said Nikodemus, who helped give Faith Lutheran its first volleyball state title. “The coaches talked to us about it because they knew our mindset wasn’t right. I felt a big responsibility to put the balls down. I took the job very seriously and helped my team win.”

That victory never was in question, as the Crusaders jumped to a 10-1 lead in the first set and never looked back. Nikodemus had four kills in the set, and she was only getting started.

After the Dust Devils took a 6-0 lead in the second set, Nikodemus ignited a 6-1 scoring spurt with three straight kills that helped the Crusaders pull within 7-6. Dayton kept the set close before succumbing to a late run that Nikodemus capped with a big cross-court spike to give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead in the match.

Faith Lutheran coach Amy Fisher said she did not expect her team to be so dominant.

“Dayton is an excellent team,” she said. “They came down here with the best record in the state, but we felt calm and our adrenaline was flowing.”

The third set presented a bigger challenge for the Crusaders, who led early but were forced to survive four tie scores down the stretch.

“The kids have been in these situations before,” Fisher said. “We play a tougher (regular-season) schedule for a reason. It gives us an opportunity to win a match like this.”

With the third set tied at 24, senior Courtney Hansen came up with two timely kills, ending the match with a slam into the middle of the court.

Fisher struggled to describe the feeling of leading Faith Lutheran to its first state crown.

“Whether it’s the first or the 10th, it’s a special feeling,” she said. “All the hard work really paid off.”

Megan Panikkar helped the Crusaders with 15 assists. Megan Kronschnabel (10 assists), Morgan Hill (eight blocks), Casey Leonard (six blocks) and Hansen (11 digs) also were instrumental.

Madi Foley led Dayton with 12 kills and a block, and teammate Ashley Vickers added eight kills, three aces and one block.

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