GRUNDY CENTER - Members of the Grundy Center volleyball team are well aware of the program's long winning streak in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division.
The Spartans talk about it, take pride in it and want to keep it going.
And after nine aces and a .324 hitting percentage Thursday night, Class 2A No. 7 Grundy Center did just that following a 25-14, 25-18, 25-16 sweep of South Hardin.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Grundy Center junior setter Peyton Ralston (5) passes the ball to classmate Noel Saak, right, Thursday during the Spartans’ three-game win over NICL West rival South Hardin.
"They take pride in it. It is something we work for and want to keep it going," said Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents. "The most important thing obviously is winning the match, but if we can win it in three that's great too."
For those counting, the Spartans have now won 32 straight NICL West matches and 85 consecutive sets.
The victory also sets up a showdown with South Tama County on Tuesday night for the conference title. A win in that match would give the Spartans a fifth straight NICL West crown.
"They have been doing very well. They have a lot of wins," Sents said of South Tama. "There were some people wanting to talk about that match though before we played these last two. That is not how it works. We have to keep things in order. On any given night, any team can beat you. We believe that. If you start looking past people, you suffer losses you shouldn't have."
The Spartans (21-7, 6-0) didn't overlook the Tigers on Thursday. And after a slow start, Grundy Center made quick work of South Hardin on its home floor.
The home team turned a 7-all tie into a 12-8 lead thanks to kills from Noel Saak, Katie Lindeman and Kayla Mathews. After a few more back-and-forth rallies, Peyton Ralston gave the Spartans more distance as she served up six straight points to extend the lead to 21-11 and eventually they won 25-14. Ralston had four aces in the match and three of them came during that six-point run.
"I think they didn't want to go out too hard," South Hardin coach Karla Bronzynski said. "We knew what we needed to do and were focused, but we just couldn't keep up."
There would be no slow start in game two as the Spartans jumped out to a 4-0 and then led 8-2 after back-to-back points from Kennedy Buss and Riley Sents. Buss, the team's only senior, collected 10 kills on the night, while Sents, the junior libero, had a team-high 19 digs.
The lead remained right around five or six the rest of the way. A hitting error by South Hardin eventually gave the set to the Spartans.
Lindeman came out firing in the final game. She recorded three kills in the first six Spartan points to give her team an early lead. Buss then chipped in a pair of kills to extend the lead. Grundy Center eventually used six straight points to go up by double digits and then never trailed by less than nine the rest of the set.
"We had to pass better. We didn't do that early on," said Bronzynski. "(Grundy Center) was hitting balls on the way up. You can preach it and preach it and preach it, but we eventually have to just do it. We were either getting up too late or weren't getting the angle right."
Lindeman finished with a team-high 13 kills, while Saak added eight kills, two aces and 13-for-13 serving. Ralston was 12-of-14 in serves with four aces and also had 16 assists and 12 digs. Alyssa Mathews had a team-best 19 assists, while Kayla Mathews added seven kills. Piper Johanns finished with 13 digs, one ace and was 13-for-13 from behind the service line.
"We hit it really well tonight," Coach Sents said. "If we hit over .300 nobody can touch us. We have enough defense that we should win every game if we hit over .300."
The Spartans continue to play without the services of junior starter Stephanie Faust. Coach Sents and Grundy Center also dodged a bullet Thursday with another injury.
"We almost lost Noel tonight, too," Coach Sents said. "Her hand starting bleeding during warmups. It was so bad we had to change our warmups. I thought I was going to have to change the lineup again, but she ended up being fine."
Bronzynski said after the game that it will be tough for a conference team to end the Spartans' long streak.
"You need to scout this team and we had a few matches this week before this one and didn't have a lot of time to watch them on tape," Bronzynski said. "The other part is that these strong programs play all year round, and we don't have that luxury. It takes money, time and commitment. And anymore, you have to play all year round to stay with the elite programs. We have four-sport athletes at South Hardin who want to be good in everything so that makes it hard too. It's not anyone's fault. It's just the way it is."
Lindeman met with a coach from Wartburg College after the match. ... Marshalltown Community College is pursuing South Hardin senior Kayla Prosser. MCC coach Chris Brees also said he believes Grand View is interested in the Tiger senior's services at the next level. ... Grundy Center will play in the Oskaloosa Tournament on Saturday, while South Hardin heads to the Hampton-Dumont Tournament. ... Coach Sents believes Buss has never experienced a loss in NICL West Division play in her career. ... Riley Sents now has 479 digs on the season, which ranks second in Class 2A.