NEVADA - Senior Riley Ackerman began the volleyball season with an illness and has worked her way back into full strength as the year progressed.
It is safe to say she is playing her best volleyball at the right time as her double-double Wednesday helped propel the top-ranked Spartans into their third straight Iowa State Volleyball Tournament.
Ackerman finished with a team-high 12 kills and 10 digs and scored the final point of the match during Grundy Center's 25-14, 25-5, 25-11 win over Guthrie Center in the Class 1A Region 4 finals.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
From left, Grundy Center seniors Sam Meyers, Heather Hook and Riley Ackerman and junior Kennedy Buss celebrate after securing a sweep of Guthrie Center in the Class 1A Region 4 volleyball finals Wednesday night in Nevada. The Spartans advanced to their third straight Iowa High School State Volleyball Tournament with a 25-14, 25-5, 25-11 victory.
"I asked Heather (Hook) to give me that final set so I could put the match away," Ackerman said. "I am glad the illness came at the beginning of the season so I could enjoy this with my teammates."
The top-ranked Spartans are headed back to the state tournament but will be playing in Class 1A this time around. They only faced off against four 1A teams this season, three of which came in the last three matches in the regional tournament. The other Class 1A team was third-ranked Tripoli, which also advanced to state Wednesday night.
"The team is playing very well right now, but this time around will be different for us," Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents said. "We aren't really that familiar with these teams."
Sumner-Fredericksburg 25-28-25-25, Edgewood-Colesburg 15-20-19-18
Council Bluffs St. Albert 14-25-25-25, Hinton 25-23-22-13
Treynor 25-25-20-25, Des Moines Christian 21-23-25-13
Dike-New Hartford 25-25-25, Eddyville-Blakesburg 21-9-10
West Branch 25-25-25, Durant 12-16-17
Lake Mills 21-25-25-17-15, Aplington-Parkersburg 25-20-16-25-9
Kuemper Catholic 25-25-25, Woodward-Granger 12-16-22
Western Christian 25-25-25, Ridge View 10-12-8
Stanton 20-25-23-25-15, Ar-We-Va 25-13-25-15-6
Janesville 25-25-25, West Bend-Mallard 20-14-11
Tripoli 25-25-25, Lisbon 20-11-19
Bellevue Marquette Catholic 19-25-25-25, Belle Plaine 25-15-18-22
Holy Trinity Catholic 25-25-25, Winfield-Mt. Union 11-16-15
Grundy Center 25-25-25, Guthrie Center 14-5-11
Le Mars Gehlen Catholic 23-25-25-25, George-Little Rock 25-15-17-20
Grandview Park Baptist 25-13-16-25-15, East Union 18-25-25-19-6
State Volleyball Tournament
At Cedar Rapids Ice Arena
Wednesday, Nov. 7
Johnston (26-8) vs. Ankeny (29-6), 3 p.m.
Bettendorf (20-11) vs. Dubuque Hempstead (29-6), 3 p.m.
Urbandale (31-8) vs. Pleasant Valley (37-1), 4:30 p.m.
Dowling Catholic (33-10) vs. Iowa City High (29-8), 4:30 p.m.
Cedar Rapids Xavier (26-11) vs. Charles City (42-1), 6 p.m.
Solon (31-4) vs. Harlan (32-5), 6 p.m.
North Scott (27-5) vs. Waverly-Shell Rock (44-7), 7:30 p.m.
West Delaware (31-11) vs. Sioux City Heelan (35-10), 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 8
Iowa Falls-Alden (32-4) vs. Mediapolis (42-0), noon
Mount Vernon (27-10) vs. Davenport Assumption (28-7), noon
Red Oak (27-6) vs. MOC-Floyd Valley (30-8), 1:30 p.m.
La Porte City, Union (33-7) vs. Sioux Center (31-6), 1:30 p.m.
Sumner-Fredericksburg (24-6) vs. Dike-New Hartford (42-0), 3 p.m.
Treynor (31-6) vs. Western Christian (41-3), 3 p.m.
Council Bluffs St. Albert (28-10) vs. West Branch (36-4), 4:30 p.m.
Lake Mills (43-0) vs. Kuemper Catholic (32-5), 4:30 p.m.
Stanton (34-2) vs. Janesville (31-8), 6 p.m.
Le Mars Gehlen Catholic (21-10) vs. Tripoli (35-5), 6 p.m.
Grandview Park Baptist (29-6) vs. Grundy Center (33-6), 7:30 p.m.
Marquette Catholic (29-5) vs. Holy Trinity Catholic (43-4), 7:30 p.m.
The Spartans, seeded No. 1, will face off against 14th ranked and eighth-seeded Grandview Park Baptist (29-6) in the first round of the Iowa State Volleyball Tournament. That match will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.
If the State Volleyball Tournament is anything like the other matches against Class 1A foes, the Spartans will cruise to the state championship. Grundy Center beat Tripoli in a tournament this season 21-17, 21-18 and were never challenged in the regional tournament. Colo-NESCO gave the Spartans their toughest competition but only managed to reach 16 points two different times.
"We just try to play our style no matter who we play against," senior Sam Meyers said. "We have played tough competition this season and hopefully that helps us at state."
Grundy Center improved to 32-6 on the year. The six losses came against the top two ranked teams in Class 2A in Dike-New Hartford and Western Christian, Class 3A No. 7 La Porte City-Union, two ranked teams in Class 4A in Charles City and West Delaware and the nation's top-ranked team in Papillion La Vista South.
And Sents believes it was at the Sioux City Heelan Tournament earlier this year that his squad truly believed they belonged in the conversation of one of the best teams in Iowa. At that tourney, the Spartans lost to Western Christian and Papillion La Vista South but also knocked off Class 5A No. 1 Ankeny and Class 4A No. 2 Sioux City Heelan.
"We learned during that weekend that we belonged," Sents said. "They started believing in themselves at that point. We learned a lot about ourselves."
The regional final against Guthrie Center took about an hour and left no doubt once the Spartans got going.
They only trailed early in each of the first two games but used their size and experience to blast through the overmatched Tigers, whose roster features just one senior.
Junior Kacie Schreck came into the match with a team-high 224 kills, but once the Spartans identified her, Guthrie Center had no answer for the overpowering Spartans.
"We knew she was their best player, but we found out in the first 15 points that we needed to pay closer attention to her," Sents said of Schreck. "We had to do a better job on her and we finally did that after those first 15 points."
Schreck began the opening game with back-to-back kills to give the Tigers their only lead of the frame. The Spartans used several small runs to slowly pull away and a kill and a block by Ackerman gave Grundy Center a comfortable eight-point advantage. Meyers then closed out the frame with the final two Spartan points.
The final two frames were mirror images of each other.
The Spartans jumped out to an 11-1 lead in game two behind strong serving from Riley Sents. Back-to-back points from Meyers triggered a 9-0 run that eventually ended the frame.
The third and final game saw the Spartans sprint out to another 11-1 lead and this time it was Ackerman and Stephanie Faust doing a lot of the damage.
Faust finished with eight kills on the night. Ackerman blasted home 12 kills and has contributed 26 in the past two wins for the Spartans.
"It's nice to see Riley Ackerman healthy," Coach Sents said. "She is coming into her own after being ill earlier this season. It is very nice to see."
Another 7-0 by Grundy Center pushed the lead to 19-7. Ackerman eventually closed out the victory with a vicious attack shot that landed out of the reach of anyone in the Tigers' back row.
"We've worked really hard for this all season," said senior Heather Hook, who finished with 32 assists and two aces. "We're definitely peaking at the right time."
Riley Sents finished with a team-high 17 digs and four aces and was 26-for-26 in serves. Faust had three aces and was 13-of-14 in serves. The Spartans finished 69-of-74 in serves and had 12 blocks on the night. Meyers had four blocks, while Hook, Ackerman, Faust and Noel Saak all had two apiece.
The top-ranked Spartans will be a heavy favorite at the Iowa High School State Volleyball Tournament. And the popular expectation is to win that final match of the season.
"Last year left a bad taste in our mouth, and we have some unfinished business to take care of," Hook said.
The Spartans did not lose a set during their Class 2A regional tournament in 2011. They reached the state semifinals in each of the last two seasons as well. ... Meyers now has 446 kills on the season, which ranks second in Class 1A. Hook's 870 assists also ranks third in 1A, while Riley Sents' 669 digs is tops in the entire state and is more than 200 ahead of anyone in Class 1A. ... The Spartans were elated that they were returning to the state tournament, but the ultimate goal is to walk out of the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena as state champions. "It's my senior year and we really want to win it this year," Meyers said. "We've been there before. It is time to finish it off."