Bobcats, Spartans end with losses at Cedar Falls tourney
CEDAR FALLS — Some of the best high school volleyball teams in the state were in attendance at the Tiger Volleyball Invitational, with over half of the 16 teams featured in the latest Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union rankings.
Three of the top teams in their class were present at the University of Northern Iowa Wellness and Recreation Center, including invitational host Class 5A No. 1 Cedar Falls.
That was the challenge both 2A No. 3 Grundy Center and Marshalltown faced on Saturday, and each showed some great things in the tournament while ultimately losing in their final game.
Bobcats ousted in consolation finals
Marshalltown was placed in arguably the hardest pool to start the tournament, featuring the top-ranked Tigers and 4A No. 10 Charles City.
The Bobcats actually started off their day facing the Comets, and their day couldn’t have started much better, as MHS rolled to an early 21-10 first-set win. Charles City took the second set 21-17, and in the third set Marshalltown owned a 15-14 lead but had only its second failed serve of the match, leaving the door open for Charles City to pull out the 17-15 set victory.
Bobcats head coach Chris Brees he liked the way his girls started off their day with a good showing.
“We came out against Charles City very strong, we went up 21-10 but we let off the pedal in the second game and we had match point in the third game on our serve but missed it,” he said. “I thought we came out and were playing really good ball.”
Marshalltown didn’t let the close loss get to them, as the girls rebounded and pulled off a 21-17, 21-16 victory in match two against Cedar Rapids Washington. Then it was the big test against Cedar Falls, and unfortunately the Tigers were a little too much for the Bobcats to handle, losing in straight sets, 21-9, 21-10.
“Obviously our goal with that pool this morning was not waisting all of our energy on Cedar Falls and thinking about Cedar Falls, we wanted to go after Charles City and go after Washington,” Brees said. “Washington is a good team, they have some big bangers and pulling off that win was good for us.”
After going 1-2 in pool play, the Bobcats found themselves as one of the top seeds in the consolation bracket, with their first game of the bracket against Waterloo West.
Marshalltown and the Wahawks had a great battle, but the Bobcats eventually came out the victor in straight sets, 25-18, 25-22.
“Obviously there were some struggles there we had to work through and we had players that stepped up and responded,” Brees said.
In the consolation semifinals, again Marshalltown (12-8) had to respond after falling in the first set to Waterloo East 25-23. The Bobcats did just that, coming out and taking the second set 26-24 and closing out the third on an 11-2 run to win 15-9.
Against Cedar Rapids Prairie in the consolation finals, MHS came out a little sluggish and lost the first set, this time falling 25-15. In the second set, however, the Bobcats had renewed energy and led most of the way through until the Hawks eventually won the set and the match in a 28-26 decision.
“Cedar Rapids Prairie is a good program, but again we had set point on our serve and we had the opportunities and we worked back to it,” Brees said. “I don’t think they expected us to respond, and I was happy how we did. We had four people playing in places they aren’t starters, we showed some risilience today pulling out some wins and that’s good for us.”
The individual statistics on the day were impressive all around from many Bobcats. Senior Regan Mazour led in kills with 45, though Ciara Feldman was just behind with 43 and Molly Bach had 30. Feldman led the way defensively with 59 digs, followed by libero McKenna Major with 49 and Mazour with 45, while sophomore Madi Finch had 113 assists.
Playing in a long tournament where you compete in as many as six matches is tough on any team, and Brees said despite some adversity and some movement around on the lineups his girls stepped up when needed most.
“We had to move Emily Hass outside and she responded well, Molly Bach had a great day and Ciara did really well back there just holding her composure. These things are going to mean a lot down the road come middle of October,” Brees said. “I was happy with the day, going 3-3 in a tournament where about everybody is ranked and competing, we didn’t stop competing. Their homecoming dance is in an hour, but we still played through it and we were the last ones in the gym.”
Spartans fall in first championship match
Grundy Center did not have the start it was looking for in its first matchup of pool play, falling to 1A No. 1 Janesville in the first set 21-8 for only its second set loss of the entire season. The Spartans came back hard though, taking the second set 21-9 and winning the third 15-13.
Grundy Center would carry that momentum all the way through pool play, handling Fort Dodge in two sets (21-15, 21-10) and taking out Des Moines East in a sweep (21-7, 21-11).
Even in the match against the Dodgers, however, the Spartans struggled out of the gates, something that head coach Lori Willis said will be worked on regularly in the team’s next few practices.
“That’s all we are going to work on this week, we are going to work on first-ball side outs and being aggressive right away from that first serve so we can start the games stronger,” she said.
Those same problems seemed to plague Grundy Center in its opening match of the championship bracket against 4A No. 7 Center Point-Urbana. The Spartans and Stormin’ Pointers fought each other tooth and nail in the first set, with Center Point-Urbana taking the set 21-17.
Losing that hard-fought match clearly took a tole on Grundy Center, as they came out slow in the second set to the tune of a 6-0 Stormin’ Pointer lead, though they would fight back and tie things up before Center Point-Urbana took the set and match with a 21-18 decision.
Willis said the slow start had nothing to do with what the Stormin’ Pointers did and all to do with her team’s attitude after dropping the first set.
“There was no reason why, I think we were still having a little pity party that we lost that game one,” she said. “We have to come out scratching and clawing from the get-go. We need to be dropping that ball on the setter, the setter needs to be getting there and the hitters need to be putting that ball down.”
A big advantage Center Point-Urbana possessed in the match was 6-foot-7 blocker Delaney McSweeney, who sent back many Grundy Center attacks. Willis said when facing someone the size of McSweeney, the team needs to find ways around her rather than trying to go through her.
“We should have been setting away from her, we should have been moving her, we should have pushed it up and get the set out to the pin so that our outside hitters could attack and use her on the block or use the middle and go for a quick one,” she said. “I feel like we pushed the outsides a little too much when that tall girl was there, and it really wasn’t out outside’s fault when they were getting blocked because it just seemed like that’s what we were doing.”
Statistically for Grundy Center in the tournament, Kylie Willis was the lead attacker with 30 kills, followed by Brooke Flater, Emerson Kracht and Hailey Wallis, who each had 13. Kya Luhring took the lead defensively with 30 digs, while Flater finished with five blocks.
While losing only their second match of the season is painful, Willis said this wasn’t a bad experience for the Spartans (24-2) because it showed them areas they need to improve.
“The one thing I love about coming to these tough tournaments is it kind of exposes our weaknesses,” she said. “We are playing against teams who are good enough to take it to where we are weak, and it gives us practice in that area. It also lets our girls know we need to work on that and we need to get better and I’m not crazy. I’m not the only one seeing these weaknesses, other teams are exploiting it as well.”