Almost a decade of dominance

Grundy Center wins ninth-straight NICL West crown with sweep of South Hardin

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Grundy Center’s Kylie Willis (9) and Hailey Wallis (12) block a shot from South Hardin’s Chloe Edgerton (8) during the Spartans’ 3-0 sweep of the Tigers on Tuesday. With the win, Grundy Center clinched its ninth-straight NICL West Division championship.

GRUNDY CENTER — Last time the Class 2A No. 3 Grundy Center volleyball team didn’t win the NICL West Division regular season championship, George W. Bush was President of the United States.

The Spartans wrapped up their ninth-straight NICL West crown on Tuesday in their final home match, sweeping South Hardin, 25-5, 25-9, 25-14.

This current Grundy Center senior class was still in elementary school last time the Spartans weren’t conference champions. Smart phones were relatively new technology, and Twitter was still in the early stages of developing as a social media icon.

Not only have they won nine-straight NICL West titles, the Spartans haven’t lost a match to a conference foe in 59 tries, and they’ve won 43-straight sets, dating back to a win 3-1 victory over BCLUW in October of 2015.

Grundy Center head coach Lori Willis said the reason her girls have had the run of the conference for so long is a unique dedication to honing their craft.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Grundy Center senior Landry Luhring (1) sends a shot across the net towards South Hardin’s Gillian Gear, left, and Holly Talbot during the Spartans’ 3-0 sweep of the Tigers on senior night Tuesday.

“Work ethic,” Willis said succinctly after the win on Tuesday. “The girls have a tremendous work ethic, they do all of the speed and agility and strength training in the summer time and they play a lot of volleyball. They are just extremely dedicated and they work. They want it, they’ve seen it, they know what people in front of them did, all the alumni and how they worked toward it, and they are just following in their footsteps.”

The Spartans (33-6, 6-0) were in attack mode from the beginning against the Tigers (2-20, 0-6), so much so that it took South Hardin essentially two sets to find its footing. The Tigers did eventually round out, however, causing a tight third set that saw them down only two points to Grundy Center midway through.

That’s when Willis turned to her bench and called upon some of her seniors who haven’t seen the court much in 2017, and one senior who brought a spark was Emily Ehrig, who closed out the match with the final two kills in the third set.

Willis said she never felt nervous about calling on some of her seniors to close the game out because their time with the program has prepared them for almost anything.

“I think our program does a good job of fostering our players so that when they become seniors they know how to lead,” she said. “It’s incredible to see them develop into the players that they were, and I actually loved it that they called a timeout on our match point because I was able to sit there and say ‘let’s get this serve in. If you want to get an ace, I am totally OK with that, but if they bring it over lets set it up for Emily and let her finish the match.'”

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Grundy Center senior Emily Ehrig goes up for a hit during the Spartans’ win over South Hardin on Tuesday night to clinch the NICL West Division championship.

As for why South Hardin was more competitive in the third set, Tigers head coach Greg Salvo said his girls finally strung together a passing attack and challenged the Spartans at the net.

“The biggest difference between the third and the first two was we passed better and our serve receive was better,” he said. “That’s been a focus since one of our last tournaments and it wasn’t as good as I would have liked, especially in the second set.”

Ehrig, one of five seniors who were honored on Tuesday night, said something that sets her team so far ahead of the others in the conference is the bond each and every girl shares with one another.

“We just really like to build off each other and always encourage each other,” Ehrig said. “We like to push ourselves to the utmost limit and really feed off each other, it’s great.”

Throughout the match, South Hardin did get some difficult balls over that could have led to points against other teams, but the Spartans did a great job adjusting to the odd placement and finding ways to minimize damage. Willis said that ability by her defense to adjust on the fly will benefit Grundy Center down the road, and it all starts with libero Kyah Luhring.

“There were a couple of times where we were scrambling a little bit, Kyah made some fantastic quick moves to save the ball and we just controlled it over, which is great to see,” Willis said. “It’s always fun to get out of system swings that turn into kills for us, and that’s what kind of sets us apart from most teams that we play.”

Instead of the usual starting lineup, Willis chose to have Ehrig, Hannah Stahl, Chasyti Erickson and Sabrina Mast start alongside usual starters Landry Luhring, Kyah Luhring and Sydney Mathews. Junior Brooke Flater, one of Grundy Center’s usual top attackers, said she was happy to see the seniors start the game and get worked back into the mix during the third set.

“I think it was good for our seniors to get in and how we started like that, it was just fun,” she said. “Then the last set I think it was good that we got them all back in and we got the lead so they could come in, I thought it was really fun.”

Grundy Center is now officially done with its regular season, yet another 30-plus win season for the program. The next game for the Spartans actually won’t be until the second round of regional play on Oct. 23, and Willis said this break will be great for the girls to get healthy before the playoffs start.

“We are going to get some much needed rest,” Willis said. “It’s been a long season for us, we play a grinding schedule with our Saturdays, and really our bodies have gotten a little bit broken down so I am excited to give them some time off and let their bodies heal so we can come back next week and get hungry.”