Spartans sail into regional final
GRUNDY CENTER – Kennedy Buss has been waiting patiently for her chance to shine on the volleyball court.
The Spartan senior sat behind Sarah Frisch and Katie McMartin when the Spartans reached the Class 2A semifinals in 2011 and then played sparingly behind Noel Saak and Stephanie Faust last year during the Spartans’ run to the Class 1A title match.
Buss has finally gotten her chance to lead a Grundy Center volleyball team, and she is making the most of her opportunity as her 11 kills and four blocks guided the Class 2A No. 9 Spartans to a 25-14, 25-21, 25-11 sweep of NICL West rival West Marshall on Friday night in their Class 2A Region 5 semifinal.
“She is embracing her new role,” Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents said. “We wanted her to have a nice night in her final match in this gym. It should be a good memory for her. This had to be fun.”
The victory was Grundy Center’s sixth straight. The Spartans also have won nine of their last 10 and cruised into a fourth consecutive regional final.
Grundy Center (28-8) can make it four straight trips to the state tournament Wednesday with a win over No. 5 South Central Calhoun.
“I feel like I have just been waiting my turn,” Buss said. “We can’t rely on those players this year so it’s my job to step in and be a leader. We cleaned up our game from Tuesday. And we are looking forward to watching the tape on our next opponent.”
Sents said the Spartans made it a point to fix a few things after beating South Hardin in four games earlier in the week. It was the first time since 2009 that an NICL West opponent had taken a game from Grundy Center.
Friday, the Spartans used long runs in the first two games to secure a fast start and then dominated the final set from the opening point.
“It was a much better start,” Sents said. “We had talked about getting going much sooner. The girls knew they had to play better then they did on Tuesday.”
Morgan Hopper kept West Marshall in the opening set early as her three kills helped the Trojans draw even at 10-all.
The Spartans seized momentum though by scoring 15 of the next 19 points and won the set going away. Noel Saak had two kills and an ace during that stretch and Buss chipped in three kills.
Spartan sophomore Katie Lindeman came out swinging in the second game and her three kills gave the home team a 7-3 advantage. But the Trojans once again rallied to tie it at 10-all.
A long service run from Saak, which included one of her three aces, pushed the Spartan lead to 18-11. Lindeman made it 21-15 with a push to the corner and a Faust kill gave the NICL West champions game point. West Marshall scored the next two points, but Faust put the game away with another blast.
“I feel a lot better,” said Faust, who has missed a good chunk of the season with an injury. “I was rusty at first but have been getting a lot more swings in at practice.”
Faust and Lindeman both finished with nine kills on the night. Lindeman also was 18-for-18 in serves with two aces.
“Stephanie is starting to get back into rhythm and now is a good time to do that,” Sents said. “Katie has been good for us all year long. She is playing really well right now.”
The third and final game wasn’t too competitive as the Spartans used a long run early to establish a big advantage.
Lindeman’s serve turned a 2-all tie into a 13-2 lead for the Spartans, and they never looked back. The 11-0 run included two aces from Lindeman and two kills from Buss.
“I am still happy with the way they played tonight,” said West Marshall coach Al Craven of his Trojan squad. “They didn’t back down to Grundy. We went point-for-point for awhile. We hit some spots when we couldn’t stop them, but I am still happy with how we played.”
The Trojans began the season 3-14 but went 7-3 in October and took a four-match win streak into Friday. Winners of seven of its last nine overall, West Marshall ended the year 16-20.
“It was a good finish to our season,” Craven said. “I am proud with how we kept fighting. We just wanted to win one game at a time tonight. We knew they were aggresive and scrappy. We kept fighting and played hard until the end though.”
The Spartans are back where they have been for the three seasons prior to this year. Their fourth straight regional final may be the toughest of them all. South Central Calhoun (38-4) currently holds a nine-match win streak and all nine victories came in straight sets. They are 21-1 in their last 22 matches.
Wednesday’s Region 5 championship match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Webster City.
“People are saying that Grundy Center is down or what have you,” Sents said. “If this is down, I am happy. I love these kids. They play their hearts out and have put themselves in position to go to state. It will be a tough match, there’s no doubt about that.
“I know they are tall. They have a lot of seniors, too. We will watch the video and see what we can exploit. The biggest thing is to just play our game and play it well.”
Riley Sents finished with a team-high 24 digs, while Alyssa Mathews added 26 assists. Peyton Ralston ended up with 13 assists, nine digs, three blocks and was 11-of-12 in serves. Piper Johanns finished with 12 digs and was 12-for-12 in serves.
The Trojans were led by Hopper’s eight kills, while Brandy Wilkey and Jennifer Davis each added five. Alarie Craven finished with 21 assists and nine digs, and Claire Underwood also had a team-high 10 digs. Mackenzie Coberly was a perfect 9-for-9 in serves, while Craven and Blair Bailey were both 7-of-7.
Former Grundy Center all-state setter Heather Hook was in the stands cheering on the Spartans on Friday. … Both student sections dressed up in costumes in support of Halloween. … Juniors Haley Birks (249) and Maggie Anderson (239) lead South Central Calhoun in kills, while Ashley Henkenius leads the team with 789 assists and 71 aces. Birks (236) and Henkenious (206) also lead the squad in digs. … South Central Calhoun disposed of Woodward-Granger 25-16, 25-14, 25-18 in its regional semifinal.