Spartans don’t second-guess success

CEDAR RAPIDS – On paper it was supposed to be a down year at Grundy Center.

A season to rebuild coming off the loss of all-tournament team stalwarts Heather Hook and Sam Meyers after a Class 1A runner-up finish.

And a chance for its youth to gain experience filling larger roles while working toward a bright future ahead.

The 2013 Spartans wouldn’t settle for success in the future – they wanted it now.

Though they needed a little time to work out some kinks and mesh as a unit, it wouldn’t come at the cost of keeping the program’s rich tradition alive. Grundy Center ensured nothing less with another North Iowa Cedar League West Division title and a fourth straight trip to the state tournament.

Grundy Center’s postseason run came to a halt Wednesday in a Class 2A first-round match at the Iowa Girls High School State Volleyball Tournament as No. 2 ranked Western Christian swept the ninth-ranked Spartans, 25-15, 25-13, 25-15 at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Matching the mindset they carried all season, the Spartans came into the match expecting nothing less than a win.

“It would have been an easy season for the girls just to say, ‘You know, we’ll get it next year. We’ll be OK but we’re not going to be really that good,'” said Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents. “It would have been an easy season for them to do that, but that’s not Grundy Center girls. That’s not my volleyball girls. They took it upon themselves to keep tradition going and keep it moving.”

Wednesday marked the school’s seventh appearance in Cedar Rapids under Sents, though just getting to the tournament wasn’t enough for these girls. There was no talk of moral victories or happy-to-be-here speeches, even if the feat was impressive for a team featuring just one senior.

“We surprised a lot of people,” said outside hitter Kennedy Buss, the lone member to graduate from this year’s squad. “We worked really hard and got where we wanted to be, but obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”

Working through injuries and some changes in the lineup, the Spartans showed their strength at full force by rattling off seven straight wins coming into the tournament. Grundy Center capped the run by rallying from a two-game deficit in the Class 2A Region 5 final to stun No. 5 South Central Calhoun in five sets.

“At the beginning of the season it was a little shaky because it was a whole new lineup and there were a lot of fresh faces out there,” said junior outside hitter Stephanie Faust. “We knew from day one that we had to work very, very hard everyday to accomplish what we have gotten to today. … We finished this year, we laid it all on the court, we did everything we possibly could.”

Featuring three sophomores and a trio of juniors in the starting lineup Wednesday, the Spartans left the floor knowing they’ll have another opportunity to return, though it won’t be any easier.

In the postgame huddle, Sents recognized Buss for her four years of service before offering a challenge to his 14 returnees.

“Think about how this game went, think about where everything is at, think about how you can get better in the offseason,” said Sents, recalling his message to his squad. “Most likely we’ll be in the same class next year and it’s not going to be any easier next year. Neither Western (Christian) nor Dike (New-Hartford) graduate many of their key players. … It’s going to be just as tough and we need to be a little bit better to compete with that.”

Hitting is the main area the Spartans must shore up said Sents, who saw his team reach his desired level of attacking in a few matches but not consistently.

Sophomore Katie Lindeman led the squad with 238 kills entering the tournament and is one of the reasons to believe Grundy Center can improve its offense next fall.

While defense was the Spartans’ strong suit this year, even third-year libero Riley Sents isn’t resting on her laurels as the team works to get better across the board.

“We’re using this as motivation to come back and play our hearts out next year,” said Riley Sents. “(We’re going to) play harder, do everything we can in the offseason and just come back more powerful.”

Setter or hitter, starter or reserve, Coach Sents said it will take another team-wide effort for the Spartans to keep their tradition rolling next year.

“It’s a great group of girls and that goes all the way down to the end of the bench. They all have to contribute.”