There may not a hotter volleyball team in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference than the Southwestern Spartans.
The heat continued to burn Wednesday against Marshalltown Community College as the Spartans won their sixth straight match with a 25-16, 25-19, 27-25 victory over the Tigers in the annual "Dig Pink" match at the Student Activity Center.
Southwestern, which also has won 11 of its last 12 and 16 of its last 18, took advantage of the Tigers' passive approach in the opening set and never looked back in recording the sweep. All six wins during the Spartans' six-game win streak have gone the minimum three sets.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown CC freshman Miranda Smith (16) hits the ball past two Southwestern CC blockers — Allyson Kocour (4) and Alex Duffy (11) — during ICCAC action at the Student Activity Center on Wednesday. Smith had nine kills and four blocks in the Tigers’ three-game loss.
"For us to come here and beat a team like Marshalltown that plays fantastic defense, it's always a good win," Southwestern coach Melissa Blessington said. "Beating anyone in our region is a good win and getting it done in three is just icing on the cake for us."
Blessington was coached by Marshalltown coach Chris Brees when Brees was at Grand View. That made things bittersweet on both benches Wednesday.
"Those kids that have been in my program and have bought into it, understand it, and that's where they end up - is coaching," Brees said. "The hard part is we run the same type of system. We both play the same type of offense and defense and her team is better at it right now than we are."
The win improves the Spartans to 7-2 in the ICCAC, which is good for third place. That is another reason Blessington was happy with the win.
"We are trying to push to stay in third place. That is another reason why it was a big win," said Blessington, who graduated from GVU in 2006. "I know Chris Brees is a fantastic coach. I know he knows how to gameplan against us. We knew we would have to fight."
The fight for the Spartans did not come until game two and three as they took care of business in the opener with relative ease.
After breaking a tie at 5-all, the Spartans used two different runs to grab a hold of the set. The first one turned a 10-7 lead into a 16-7 advantage and the final spurt gave SWCC (28-9, 7-2) a 24-15 lead. The final point came on Alex Duffy's kill. Duffy led the Spartans with 12 kills in the win.
"We blocked well tonight and we starting hitting better in that third game but we were really passive early in the match," Brees said. "That put them into system right away, which means they could run whatever they wanted."
The Tigers hung around much longer in the second set. Katelyn Yauslin kept MCC in the game with a pair of kills early and gave her team a 14-12 lead later. The Spartans though went on a 13-5 run to end the set and gain a big advantage on the scoreboard.
After a block by Miranda Smith gave the Tigers a 16-15 lead, SWCC scored five straight points to move ahead by four and then closed it out with three straight points, including another Duffy kill and a tip by setter Cassidy Yong.
"This is probably the hottest team in the league right now," Brees said. "They have a legitimate shot to take DMACC or Kirkwood out of it if they play well."
The final frame was back-and-forth throughout. There were 19 ties in the set and the largest lead was SWCC's 17-14 advantage. Down the stretch, the Tigers led 22-21 and 24-23 but could not extend the match. Smith gave MCC the lead late and then tied it at 25-all with another kill, but Allyson Kocour ended it with a block and a kill in the final two points.
"We had our opportunity to extend the match in game three," Brees said. "We had two swings at it but couldn't put the ball away. We put it in the right person's hands, it just didn't happen."
The Tigers went to Yauslin in those potential game-clinching sets. She led the Tigers with 11 kills in the match but came up a few inches short on her final two swings.
Smith added nine kills and four blocks in the loss, while Reeba Box contributed seven kills, 11 digs and two blocks. Ashley Salgado had a team-high 17 digs and two aces and was 10-for-11 in serves. Sam Hinrichs had 30 assists, two blocks, an ace and was 14-for-15 in serves.
"On any given night, he can beat anyone that he plays," Blessington said of her former coach's current team. "He is rebuilding that program and the team is getting better. They keep fighting and they are much better than they were last year."
The loss for MCC puts the Tigers in a must-win situation when they travel to Southeastern CC on Wednesday. A loss would put a big dent in MCC's chance to clinch a regional tournament berth. The top eight teams qualify for the tourney and the Tigers are currently sitting in a tie for eighth with Ellsworth. Northeast and Iowa Lakes also are close by at 3-5.
"We have to go down to Southeastern and win next week if we want to get into the tournament," Brees said. "We are capable of it. It just comes down to which one of our teams decides to show up."
Southwestern received votes in the latest NJCAA Division II poll. The Spartans trail both No. 4 Kirkwood and No. 19 DMACC by just one game in the ICCAC D-II standings. Their only conference match remaining is a home meeting with Iowa Lakes. Kirkwood still has to go to Iowa Central and DMACC will travel to Northeast and host both Marshalltown and Indian Hills. ... "Dig Pink" is a nationwide event hosted through the Side-Out Foundation. Side-Out focuses on finding alternative ways to treat breast cancer. ... Janaya Fox had nine kills for the Spartans in the win, while Shamell Mangrum added six kills. ... The final home match of MCC's season will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Central College junior varsity. The five sophomores - Salgado, Yauslin, Alyssa Whitmore, Rusty Henio and Amanda Keane - will be recognized before the match.