Brooke Nuneviller leads the Omaha celebration/Bonnie Ryan for Omaha Supernovas, Pro Volleyball Federation

OMAHA, Nebraska — Sydney Hilley began the Pro Volleyball Federation playoffs on the bench.

By Saturday afternoon, the Omaha setter was celebrating a championship and was named the most valuable player for helping the Supernovas sweep Grand Rapids in a 25-13, 26-24, 25-22 victory at the CHI Health Center.

Throughout the season, Hilley rotated at setter with Natalia Valentin-Anderson. She appeared in 68 sets compared to Valentin-Anderson’s 57. Before the semifinal, Hilley had not played in the previous three matches, all Omaha victories.

Hilley said the playing arrangement was challenging because she didn’t know how much she would play from match to match. However, the love and care she shared with Valentin-Anderson made the uncertainty easier.

“Obviously, I don’t want to be on the bench — no one on the bench wants to be on the bench — but I just wanted the best for her and to prep for anything that could happen,” Hilley said. “I had my mind right to come in. My team had so much trust in me and allowed me to play freely. I’m so proud of the way that we came back on Wednesday and then started this game and finished with a bang. It was awesome.”

Sydney Hilley sets for the Supernovas/Bonnie Ryan for Omaha Supernovas, Pro Volleyball Federation

In the semifinals, Hilley entered the match with Omaha trailing 6-0 in the second set after it had dropped the opener. The Supernovas couldn’t overcome the early deficit, but with Hilley at the controls of the offense, Omaha (19-7) pulled off a reverse sweep to earn a spot in the championship.

The former Wisconsin Badger continued her hot streak in the final as Omaha hit .615 in the first set and .342 for the match. Hilley finished with 40 assists and a block after recording 46 assists and 19 digs in the semifinal.

After Hilley delivered the win on Wednesday, Omaha coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn followed the same decision process she had used all year and rode the hot hand at setter.

“There’s a rhythm piece, and she ran a great match on Wednesday night, obviously,” Kuhn said. “So you keep going with that, especially the way we were playing. We were just off a day or two the last two weeks. And so if we went with a switch, we stuck with it. It’s seamless. They are two very different players, but it is a seamless transition, and when they have rhythm, we go with it.”

The first set was a clinic by Omaha.

Outside hitter Brooke Nuneviller recorded six kills on 10 swings. Opposite Stephanie Samedy terminated on all four of her attacks while Betty de la Cruz and middle blocker Hristina Vuchkova were each a perfect 3-for-3.

By the time de la Cruz slammed home the final point of the first set, the Supernovas had recorded 17 kills on 26 swings with just one error.

For the match, Samedy, who joined the team April 19, and de la Cruz each finished with a match-high 13 kills, while Nuneviller added 12 kills and 15 digs. Vuchkova recorded seven kills and three blocks, and Tori Dixon tallied five kills and two blocks.

Grand Rapids (13-13) regrouped and kept the second set closer. The Rise looked poised to take the set with a 23-21 lead after an ace by setter Ashley Evans.

However, the Supernovas scored the next three points on a back-row termination from Samedy and two more kills from de la Cruz. A successful challenge by Grand Rapids prevented Omaha from winning the set, but Omaha won the next two rallies to claim the set.

Claire Chaussee and Emiliya Dimitrova led the Rise with 12 kills each. No one else from Grand Rapids recorded more than four kills, and they struggled to deal with Omaha’s serving and stay in the system.

“We are not in the position we wanted to be in, but I am very proud of our team and proud of what we’ve done throughout the year to put ourselves in a position to be here tonight in the championship match,” Grand Rapids coach Cathy George said. “Things didn’t really go our way today, but I thought the Supernovas played extremely well from the get-go.”

Omaha never trailed in the third set, but the Rise got as close as 22-21 before Omaha earned back-to-back points to set up championship point. Chaussee recorded a kill on the next rally but the Rise’s subsequent serve went wide and set off the championship celebration.

The Supernovas donned commemorative shirts and hats while hugging through tears. Valentin-Anderson and Sophie Davis doused Kuhn — who was promoted to head coach two games into the season after the Supernovas fired Shelton Collier — with a water bucket. She said she wasn’t sure if the bucket contained confetti or water until it was too late.

“I was dodging it, but I was trying to look at it too because I was like, ‘Wait a second. They’re not going to dump this on the Teraflex (court),’” she said. “They did. It was those two with the sneak attack.”

PVF CEO Jen Spicher presented the team with the trophy and an oversized novelty check for $1 million.

In the post-match press conference, the Omaha players said they had no idea how they planned to spend their share of the money. Kuhn said they didn’t allow anyone to think about the cash prize because they didn’t want to get ahead of themselves. Nuneviller said she would likely put it into savings.

“We’d be just as excited right now if there weren’t a million dollars on the line,” Hilley said. “We’d approach it the same way. It’s just like a nice little bonus.”

Omaha was boosted by playing in front of a home crowd of 10,678 fans. It was the seventh time the Supernovas have attracted more than 10,000 fans for a match this season.

“I’m so grateful just to be able to be in a state where they love volleyball so much, and they want to come and support us,” Nuneviller said. “It’s just been such an incredible environment and such an incredible place to play. The fact that we got to do that in the playoffs, it’s just really special that they got to experience it with us.”

Coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn of the Omaha Supernovas/Photo by Bonnie Ryan for Omaha Supernovas, Pro Volleyball Federation


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