Spartans stave off Trojans
Grundy Center tops West Marshall in NICL West
STATE CENTER — The atmosphere was electric at the West Marshall High School gym on Tuesday evening as the home Trojans welcomed in the Class 2A No. 3 Grundy Center Spartans for a homecoming match and an important NICL West Division contest.
Despite a valiant effort from West Marshall, Grundy Center walked out of State Center another win richer, as the Spartans swept the Trojans, 25-13, 30-28, 25-11.
Grundy Center head coach Lori Willis said it took some mental fortitude for her girls to come out of that gym with a win, but her Spartans know what it takes to win in tough environments.
“We really talked last night about being mentally tough. We know every team is going to give us their best shots, we expect it and they typically do it. We were ready for it, and we knew we would face some adversity,” Willis said. “We knew we would see a hot gym and we knew we would see a team going for us.”
Both teams showed quite a bit of mental prowess during an incredibly tight second set. After jumping out to an early 5-0 lead, West Marshall (12-7, 3-1) let Grundy Center (21-1, 3-0) claw back and tie the set at 5-5, but the Trojans then built a lead again and maintained it all the way into the 21st point.
The Spartans kept fighting back and eventually tied things up again at 21, and the back-and-forth mayhem began. The second set was tied at 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 before Grundy Center eventually rolled off two-straight points to earn the 30-28 victory.
Spartans senior Landry Luhring said she tried to deliver a calm message to her team during the chaos and kept telling them to rely on their instincts.
“I was just trying to tell people ‘hey watch for this on your side, I think they are going to try to attack this,'” Luhring said after the win. “I also would say ‘hey guys, let’s just have fun, we can come back,’ and we were just playing our hearts out.”
Luhring finished the match with 11 digs defensively and five aces, including an ace on the final point in the third set. Her sister Kyah Luhring had 10 digs, while Kylie Willis was the lead attacker with a season-high 14 kills. Brooke Flater had 11 kills, followed by Emerson Kracht with a season-high nine. Sydney Mathews led the Spartans in assists with 20.
After losing the second set when they had a lead through most of the play, West Marshall head coach Denise Coberley said her girls had a hard time continuing the grind in the third, which led to the lopsided 25-11 finish.
“We preached all week as we were getting ready for this game that whatever it was, it was going to be a grinder,” Coberley said. “If we had any chance against them we had to go toe-to-toe and grind and grind and the best part about it was we didn’t play a very good first set, then we came back and played like that in the second set, those are the kinds of things we can look at as positives. We have to turn around and play like that in the third set as well and take teams to those points and every single point has to matter.”
Lexi Keigan was the lead offensively for West Marshall with eight kills and Grace Porter led defensively with 11 digs and also had 11 assists. Catherine Sjoblom had a good all-around match with six kills, four aces and seven digs.
While the Trojans weren’t able to compete as well in the third set as they did in the second, a lot of that has to do with the mentality the Spartans bring to closeout sets. Willis said they work on finishing strong a lot in practice, as she said they prefer to put teams away rather than letting them hang around.
“We talked about the fact that a lot of times when you have teams that are just playing extremely well and using everything they have against you, as long as you keep fighting through it’s like a little balloon, it slowly starts to deflate until it pops,” Willis said. “That’s usually what we see in game three, so we talk about game three getting on them and get on them fast and don’t even think about letting up.”
With the win, Grundy Center improves its streak of consecutive NICL West wins to 56, and the Spartans have won 34-straight sets in that span, as well as eight-straight NICL West Division crowns.
“You’ve got to give Grundy all the credit, they are such a phenomenal team and Lori does such a phenomenal job with those guys and they just do all the little things right,” Coberley said of her opponent. “They are where they are supposed to be on defense, even if they are out of system they get something down and they put something in. They don’t make dumb mistakes or lazy mistakes. Mistakes happen, but they don’t make the mistakes that really cost you, and that’s good coaching.”
Grundy Center had won its first 18 games of the 2017 before falling to Class 4A No. 12 Marion in a tournament last Saturday, but Willis said suffering that loss was a blessing in disguise for her girls because it woke them up to some problems that had been surfacing in their play.
“I really feel — and the girls feel this too — that that loss was great for us because it gave us time to refocus and redefine our expectations,” Willis said. “We started to slip a little bit because we were having success, and I love that this buckled us down. We had a great practice on Monday night, all the girls came in here just really strong willed and super tough. I love how they responded.”
Grundy Center heads to the Cedar Falls Tournament for its next games on Saturday, while West Marshall takes on the Nevada Tournament. Luhring said, if the Spartans continue their upward trajectory as the season rolls along, the sky is the limit on what the team can accomplish.
“I think if we play the way that we did tonight and we usually do, play our game and we can compete with anyone,” she said.