ALL-AREA VOLLEYBALL: Just makes Sents
Riley Sents has led the entire state in digs for two straight seasons. She has been named to two consecutive North Iowa Cedar League first teams and was voted the conference’s player of the year this past season.
But she would give all that back if it gave her Spartan squad more success.
It’s not that the Grundy Center volleyball team hasn’t had success. It has. The Spartans have advanced to four straight state tournaments, won 33 straight conference matches and claimed five consecutive conference titles.
It’s just when Sents steps onto the volleyball court, it’s not about individual honors or recognition. It’s about the Spartans and searching for success within the team.
But the future Missouri Tiger has certainly done her part in both. She added another honor to her wall Thursday when it was announced that she is the 2013 Times-Republican All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
“It’s an amazing honor, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said the junior libero who compiled 789 digs in 2013 after recording 752 during her sophomore campaign. “We don’t like to focus on individual honors at Grundy Center. We try to make it about the team.”
The Spartans have certainly been successful. But so has Sents. The Spartan junior became the first libero to earn NICL Player of the Year honors and she was recently named to the Max Preps Junior Volleyball All-American team, a squad that includes 18 other juniors from around the nation and two others that don uniforms in Iowa.
Sents also was the third straight player from Grundy Center to win the T-R All-Area Player of the Year, following in the footsteps of former Spartans Samantha Meyers and Heather Hook, who both graduated last year and are currently on Division I rosters – Meyers at Drake and Hook at Northern Iowa.
“Having three straight players win this honor makes it that much easier for us to get our team goals,” said Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents, who also is Riley’s father. “It helps with confidence of the entire team.”
The NICL is well aware of Sents’ talent and ability. The rest of the state also is taking notice though.
The Spartans took on second-ranked Western Christian in the opening round of the Class 2A Iowa High School State Volleyball Championships this past November and after the Wolfpack dispatched of the Spartans in three games, Western Christian coach Tammi Veerbeek and Wolfpack hitter Haley Moss both admitted that their team’s strategy was to hit the ball away from Sents, who covers so much ground on the back row.
The strategy worked, but it also showed how valuable Sents is to her squad. And how much she is counted on to come up with big digs in big spots.
“Her energy is contagious out there,” said Coach Sents. “She is a fierce competitor and she makes people around her better. She has a great passion for the game and her will to win is pretty strong.”
Riley Sents still has one more season left at Grundy Center. She has already played in three state tournaments and the Spartans bring back nearly everyone from this past year’s team.
The libero isn’t a glamorous position. They rarely get much credit in overall team success.
That is not the case though with Riley.
She essentially willed the Spartans to a come-from-behind victory in the regional final against South Central Calhoun. Grundy Center was down two sets to none but rallied thanks in part to Sents’ 52 digs.
Sents was a major omission on this year’s Class 2A Iowa Girls Coaches Association’s all-state first team. She was voted to the second team even though she had 386 more digs than Western Christian’s Alissa Pollema, who was the lone libero on the first unit.
“I tried not to dwell on it,” said Sents about being left off the first team. “(Pollema) is a very good libero, too. I am more concerned with our team success and not very many people thought our team would get to state. We did much better than anyone thought.”
Coach Sents said Riley wants to be the best libero in the state and will work even harder in the offseason to reach that status. But he also added that there is no reason to be upset about not being on the first team.
“I try not to get caught up in that stuff,” said the Spartan coach. “I am sure it will motivate her, but team success is more important to us.”
Already one of the best at her position in the state – if not the best – Riley Sents knows there’s still improvement needed. She hopes to get stronger and faster through her work in strength and conditioning at XL Sports Acceleration Program in Cedar Falls. She also wants to work on her passing, get to more balls and anticipate better.
“Passing is so important in volleyball,” said Riley Sents. “I want to be able to put the ball where I want it to go every time.”
Doing that will help her team, which is ultimately what drives Sents the most.