CEDAR RAPIDS – The Grundy Center volleyball team didn’t lack fight. The Spartans weren’t going to back down. And they weren’t scared.
Grundy Center though just couldn’t keep up with second-ranked Western Christian’s firepower. Five Wolfpack players had at least six kills and three reached double figures as Western Christian abused the No. 9 Spartans at the net during a 25-15, 25-13, 25-15 win at the Iowa Girls High School State Volleyball Tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“They were better than we were today,” Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents said. “We just didn’t have the firepower at our end to keep up with them.”
The taller Wolfpack finished with 50 kills in the match, led by Ema Altena and Haley Moss, who each totaled 11. In comparsion, Spartan sophomore Katie Lindeman’s five kills were a team-high and Grundy Center only had 10 kills in the match.
“We preach it the whole year, we don’t have one star that’s going to stand out,” said Western Christian coach Tammi Veerbeek. “We’re going to be very balanced. We need everyone to be successful.”
Western Christian (44-2) is in the state tournament for the 13th consecutive season. And the Wolfpack will play in their 13th straight semifinal when they take on third-ranked Sumner-Fredericksburg on Thursday. Sumner-Fredericksburg beat Hinton 3-1.
The other 2A semifinal pits top-ranked Dike-New Hartford against?sixth-ranked Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont. The two-time defending champion Wolverines swept unranked Iowa City Regina, while E-B-F took care of fourth-ranked Council Bluffs St. Albert in four games.
“We haven’t said the word Dike all year,” said Moss. “We focused on one game at a time. If we are blessed with the opportunity to play them it would be really exciting. But every point counts. Every match counts.”
The Spartans will lose just one senior – Kennedy Buss – when they return to the court next season. That doesn’t help the pain the team is feeling after a season-ending loss.
“It’s way better to lose in Cedar Rapids than it is to lose in some little gym in Northeast Iowa,” Sents said. “It is harder too. The fact that you are so close to that final goal and it doesn’t happen is hard. They truly came into this tourney thinking they could do this. The further you get the harder the losses become.”
Western Christian grabbed control of the opener from the initial point, leading 4-0 in the early stages. Moss collected six kills in the opening game to help set the tone for the Wolfpack. Western Christian also had five aces in game one.
“We were caught off guard in the beginning,” said junior hitter Stephanie Faust in regards to the early aces from the Wolfpack. “I think we cleaned it up and got our heads in the game eventually.”
The Spartans were in front 3-0 in the second game but a pair of net violations by Grundy Center helped put the Wolfpack in front for good. Moss also extended the lead with a trio of kills that grew the Western Christian advantage to 15-10. Ten of the next 13 points then went to the Wolfpack, led by three kills from Altena. Payton Harrison eventually gave the Wolfpack a 2-0 lead in the match with an ace.
The Wolfpack finished with 12 aces on the day but also had nine service errors. That was just fine with Veerbeek though.
“We wanted to serve aggressively,” she said. “We had to take chances. We have confidence in our side-out offense so if we missed a serve we felt like we could score off the side-out pretty easily.”
Both Moss and Veerbeek admitted that the Western Christian strategy both in serving and hitting was to keep the ball away from Spartan libero Riley Sents as much as possible.
And hitting the ball to others along the back row pushed the Spartans out of system and helped maximize the Wolfpack’s opportunity to score first-ball kills, which they took full advantage of.
“(Riley) Sents is a great libero,” said Veerbeek. “She had some amazing digs, but the thing is she can only dig it, she can’t put it down for her team and eventually our balance is going to wear them out. We were just a little better and stronger at the net than them.”
Grundy Center grabbed a 3-1 lead in game three and hung around after back-to-back aces from Peyton Ralston.
A 10-2 run though pushed the Wolfpack in front 18-9 and it never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
That spurt included a pair of kills from Summer Jansen and setter Jamie Gesink. Jansen had 10 kills and a team-high 16 digs on the day, while Gesink recorded four kills, 39 assists, 11 digs and two aces. Jade Schaap collected seven kills and Kaira Moss chipped in six.
That was just too much firepower for the young Spartans to handle.
“Other teams don’t know what to do a lot of times,” said Haley Moss, who stands 6-foot-5. “We have five girls that can put the ball away. If they stop one, we have four others to go to.”
Riley Sents tried to do her part on the back row for the Spartans (29-9). She finished with a team-high 13 digs.
Grundy Center though finished with a hitting percentage of .075, while Western Christian ended up at .358.
“They had really good swingers. They were good from every position,” said Riley Sents. “I tried to read it as well as I could. You have to anticipate it, but it’s hard because they have so many hitters that can put it away.
“Our serve receive wasn’t as good as it usually is. We just felt the pressure and needed to rise to the occassion more.”
Western Christian, which is 100-6 in games played this year, takes on Sumner-Fredericksburg on Court 2 at 4 p.m. today. The winner of that match takes on the winner of Dike-New Hartford and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont in the championship match at 4 p.m. Friday.
Grundy Center has now been eliminated from state tournament play by the Wolfpack in three out of the last four years. Grundy Center lost to Western Christian in the 2A semifinals in 2010 and 2011. The Spartans reached the 1A finals last year but lost to Tripoli.