Spartans snuff out Comets in 3

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Grundy Center defenders Kylie Willis (9) and Hailey Wallis (12) try for the block against BCLUW’s Easton Swanson (13) in the second set of Thursday’s Class 2A Region 5 semifinal volleyball match in Grundy Center. The third-ranked Spartans swept their NICL West Division rival, 25-15, 25-12, 25-13, to advance to within a win of the state tournament.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Grundy Center defenders Kylie Willis (9) and Hailey Wallis (12) try for the block against BCLUW’s Easton Swanson (13) in the second set of Thursday’s Class 2A Region 5 semifinal volleyball match in Grundy Center. The third-ranked Spartans swept their NICL West Division rival, 25-15, 25-12, 25-13, to advance to within a win of the state tournament.

GRUNDY CENTER — A well-oiled machine is the effective coordination of any number of parts working together seamlessly.

On Thursday night, that apparatus was the Grundy Center volleyball team.

The third-ranked Spartans advanced to their eighth-straight regional final by sweeping NICL West Division rival BCLUW, 25-15, 25-12, 25-13, in their Class 2A Region 5 semifinal.

It’s the third year in a row that BCLUW’s season ended on the Spartans’ home court, and this rendition never seemed up for grabs.

Grundy Center’s varied attack tallied 37 kills to BCLUW’s 12, showing how well the Spartans’ motor was running on this night.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“Our focus was on us, making sure that we play clean, we play crisp,” said Grundy Center head coach Lori Willis. “I really wanted us to overwhelm them with communicating with our diverse hitting, which really did work because there were some really puzzled looks on the other side of the net at times.”

The evidence, if not on the Comets’ faces, was in the absence of a blocker when the Spartans (35-6) went up for the attack. Three of Landry Luhring’s five kills in the match came from the outside, when BCLUW (22-16) neglected to send a defender her way. The unopposed attacks found the floor without resistance, and Grundy Center eased back to within a match of the state tournament.

“It means a lot, we know we have to work very hard for this,” said Spartan sophomore Emerson Kracht. “Last year we figured out we had a lot of potential and this year we’re trying to do better than we did last year and get farther than we did.”

Kracht, who splits time between setting and hitting, recorded three kills and joined junior setter Sydney Mathews as facilitators of the Spartans’ fluid attack. Kylie Willis led the way with 13 kills, Hailey Wallis had nine kills and Brooke Flater added eight as Grundy Center was too diverse for the Comets to stop.

“It’s always tough to face Grundy at Grundy,” said BCLUW coach Kristen Garber. “It’s happened a lot, but we just talked about how we weren’t supposed to beat Belle Plaine at home on Monday. We talked about, ‘ignore their uniforms, they’re just girls, just play one ball at a time,’ and I felt like we did a really good job of that Monday night … but tonight we just never found that rhythm.”

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

BCLUW junior outside hitter Easton Swanson, who ranks fifth in 2A in kills, accumulated just six successful attacks as Grundy Center focused its defense on her. The Spartans came up with five total blocks as well, limiting the Comets’ options offensively.

Flater and Kracht both had three block assists, Kylie came up with one solo and one assist, and Claire Verly added an assist as well.

Madison Ubben contributed two kills in support of Swanson, who had a limited number of opportunities because of the way the Spartans hit their spots from the service line.

“Serving is our number one priority in any match,” Lori said. “We want to be able to serve them off the court and our girls did a phenomenal job of hitting their zones. Tonight we really hit our zones and we were aggressive with our serves and I love seeing that because that’s going to help us down the road.”

The next stop in the line is Tuesday’s regional final against Pella Christian (21-15) at Grinnell High School. The Eagles defeated Pekin in a sweep as well to advance to within one win of that program’s first trip to state since 2010.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“It’s so exciting,” Lori said. “I get really nervous for these things, even though I know that we are a very good team, I still get those player jittery nerves. I get the butterflies and I love it.”

There wasn’t a lot to be anxious about in this NICL West rematch. BCLUW led 5-3 in the first set and 2-1 in the second set, but that was as long as the uprising lasted.

Kaylee Goecke’s nine digs led the BCLUW defense, and Swanson recorded two solo blocks and two assists. Cate Nason came away with just nine assists.

Luhring, Willis and Kracht each had two of Grundy Center’s eight service aces. Hannah Stahl and Kyah Luhring had the others.