CEDAR RAPIDS - The Bobcat volleyball team went toe-to-toe with the ninth ranked team in the state Monday.
Unfortunately, volleyball can sometimes be a game of inches. And Marshalltown came up just short in the closest possible three-set match as No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy eliminated the Bobcats 25-23, 25-23, 30-28 in the first round of Class 5A regional play.
"This is the toughest part of the season, when you end the season with a negative," MHS coach Terri Westendorf said. "It came down to one play, one point. But the kids played with heart, and they gave what they had. I am proud of them for a great season."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown freshman Leiah Paustian passes the ball to a teammate during the Bobcats’ three-game loss to ninth-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy on Monday. The Cougars won 25-23, 25-23, 30-28.
The Bobcats rode their seniors all night, and the large group of experienced players nearly led Marshalltown to the win. Instead, it was the strong play from two Cougar seniors - Jordan Calef and Lexi Rogers - that won out.
"If we would have had everyone play their best game tonight, I truly feel we would have won this match," Westendorf said. "We just didn't all gel tonight like we do when we play well. We are a very good team and we were right there with a state-ranked team. We just couldn't get over the hump."
The Bobcats got strong play from senior Eisha Oden to start the opening frame as her three kills gave MHS a 4-2 lead. Two more Oden kills coupled with a kill from Cassidy Blackford and a hitting error from the Cougars pushed the lead to 12-6.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy is ranked for a reason though, and the Cougars responded with five straight points - three from Calef - to make it 12-11. The game was later tied three different times until Kennedy (23-12) got three straight points from Brinley Milbrath and eventually went up 20-15.
Marshalltown rallied to tied the frame at 23 following back-to-back kills by Oden, but two straight kills from Calef gave the opening set to the home team.
Coming into Monday, Calef led the Cougars with 264 kills, 43 aces and 83 blocks. She will play collegiately at Division II University of Sioux Falls next season.
Game 2 began the same way the opener started except with Kennedy grabbing an early 12-6 lead. But eight quick points by the Bobcats gave the road team a two-point advantage.
During that 8-0 spurt, Lauren Mazour batted down two kills and the Cougars were called for three net violations.
The lead stayed at two points for a while but eventually ballooned to four following back-to-back kills and a block by Miranda Smith and another blast from Oden. Kennedy though rallied behind more strong play from Calef, Rogers and senior setter Bre Boote.
Two kills from Calef, an ace from Boote and a few errors by the Bobcats pushed the Cougars lead to three. Marshalltown fought off a couple set points before Kennedy closed out the win with two straight points.
"You hate to end your season on a negative, but that is what happens to everyone except the state champion," Westendorf said. "Even in practice we never end with a bad serve or hit."
The final game was a marathon that featured 13 ties and neither team gained an advantage of more than five tallies.
Kennedy began by taking an early 10-7 lead, but Smith and Mazour rallied the Bobcats and even gave them a lead at 11-10. The Cougars gained another advantage a few points later, but Marshalltown (22-17) once again rallied to even the game at 19.
That's when the ties came into play as the game went back-and-forth for the duration of the frame. Mazour and Oden had back-to-back kills to tie it at 23.
Kennedy got game point from Marshalltown off a block out of bounds, but Oden's big blast evened it up again. She would later tie it at 25 and Mazour gave the Bobcats the lead at 26-25, but a net violation forced another tie.
That same sequence followed on the next two points as Mazour gave her Bobcats game point but a net violation tied it back up.
The officials called several net violations and rotation violations all night, and Westendorf said that affected her squad.
"We got a little jerky, but we have to control ourselves better," Westendorf said. "Some of the calls were abnormal on our end, but we have to learn to control our emotions better."
After the second net violation call, the Bobcats regained the lead for a third time following a block from Smith and Leiah Paustian. However, the Cougars rolled off three straight points following the block and took the set 30-28 and the match 3-0.
The seniors played a big role in the Bobcats' season and certainly had their hands in many of the points Monday. Westendorf said they will be missed.
"We're going to miss those seniors," she said. "We had some big leaders, and they'll be sorely missed."
Oden, Mazour and Smith - all seniors - had 15, 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Oden and Smith also had three blocks each. Senior Madi Bellile had a team-high 32 assists, while twin sister Morgan Bellile contributed a team-high 18 digs. Madi Bellile also had 14 digs and was 12-for-12 in serving.
Morgan Bellile was 16-for-16 in serving with two aces, while Mazour had 10 digs and was 15-for-15 in serving with two aces. Senior Megan Major added 11 digs and was 11-for-11 in serving with one ace.
Oden finished the season with 371 kills, while Madi Bellile ended up with 806 assists. ... Kennedy's Rogers will play volleyball collegiately at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a Division II school. She is the younger sister of former Iowa women's basketball player Jade Rogers. ... The Cougars tied for third in their conference this season, while Marshalltown was the champion of the new CIC Northern Division.