Fourth-set rally sends Spartans to state
Grundy Center defeats Pella Christian in regional finals for seventh trip in eight years
GRINNELL — Despite winning the first two sets in its Class 2A Region 5 finals match on Tuesday, the No. 3 Grundy Center volleyball team found itself up against a wall in the fourth set, down 7-4 early to Pella Christian after dropping the third set.
Since the beginning of that third set, the Spartans had looked out of sorts, partially due to fouls called because of their aggression and partially because of some great play on behalf of the Eagles.
Needing a spark, Grundy Center head coach Lori Willis turned to senior Hannah Stahl for some work off the bench, a move that kicked off a 14-0 Spartan run that essentially sealed the game and a trip to the state tournament.
After the team was awarded its seventh state qualifying banner in the last eight years, Willis said Stahl, who lost her grandfather just a few days prior, brought an edge to the court that her girls needed.
“Hanna did a fantastic job, we were struggling a little bit with confidence and I know that Hanna gives 110 percent, she always have and always will,” Willis said. “I knew if we took her off the bench and put her in the game she would do a great job and bring the energy. And man, did she not dig the ball lights out? She had beautiful run throughs and she was doing a great job and I was really proud of her.”
Grundy Center (36-6) won the match in four tight sets, 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 25-16. Willis said the fact that she can turn to her bench to provide such a crucial spark in an important match is extremely important moving on to the state tournament.
“We had a lot of energy and when Hanna stepped on the court a lot of confidence stepped on too,” she said. “I am excited about that, for us to have depth on the bench and be able to do that in situations that might not be working for us is awesome and it makes us a better team and it makes us stronger.”
Stahl was important, but it was senior Landry Luhring who really put the foot down during the Spartans run, sending balls over the net that Pella Christian couldn’t even think about returning. Luhring said after losing the third set, the first set loss in the postseason so far for Grundy Center, she knew she needed to elevate her game.
“I knew we had to step it up and after losing that third set I thought ‘alright, we need to pick it up and we need to start making plays,'” Luhring said. “Then I just started swinging at everything I could.”
Willis said she had a simple message for her senior leader heading into the fourth after Luhring and the rest of the Spartans struggled in the third.
“I told her to hit the ball, and I don’t know if I really told her, I yelled it,” Willis said. “She was trying to do too many trick shots and she just needed to hit the ball, and she started doing that and was fine in the fourth.”
Luhring finished the game with 12 kills on the night to lead Grundy Center, though the Spartan offensive attack was as balanced as it has been all year. Junior Hailey Wallis had 10 kills in the win, while fellow juniors Brooke Flater and Kylie Willis each had nine.
Setter Sydney Matthews, who is responsible for getting all of those girls balls to hit, said specifically in the fourth set what led to the long run was the girls getting back in rhythm and playing their game.
“I think we just gained our confidence back and we were able to come together and work as a team and be able to put everything together,” the junior said.
Grundy Center had a tough matchup defensively, as Pella Christian senior Bekah Horstman entered as the 10th-best attacker in 2A. Horstman got her points early, ending the night with 15 total kills, but as the match went on the Spartans adjusted to her offensive prowess.
“When she was up in the front row and they were serving, we needed a side out right away, that way she doesn’t damage us with a lot of points,” Willis said. “We were doing our best to slow her down with our block, but she was hitting around us, over us, she was doing a great job. Then we were able to take them out of works so she couldn’t get sets and we made an adjustment to her back-row swings that really worked out well for us.”
After two sweeps in the first two regional matchups, the Spartans hadn’t been challenged much until the finals match with Pella Christian. Willis said she liked seeing her girls face some adversity.
“I am glad that we didn’t just go out there and whoop up on them in three, I wanted it to mean something because I wanted the girls to feel like they earned it, because they did,” she said. “They worked hard and battled through and came through with a lot of energy.”
Because of that confidence and that energy the team possesses, Luhring said they never feel down in a match, no matter what the scoreboard says.
“We don’t get tentative, we are really aggressive and we keep telling each other to keep swinging hard because we have your backs,” Luhring said of the team’s mindset. “We have lots of energy and are a very intense team, and we have really good chemistry. We are in it to win it.”
Now the Spartans have a little over a week before their first-round matchup with No. 6 Sidney in the state tournament. The Cowgirls have made state each of the last three years, but Luhring said no matter who Grundy Center faces, the team is ready to win and advance.
“It is amazing, just to go back to state is just awesome,” she said. “We hope that we can win our first round and keep coming because we are a very aggressive team and we are very competitive.”
The Spartans and Sidney face off at 8 p.m. next Wednesday at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids for a chance to advance to the state semifinals.
Iowa High School State
At U.S. Cellular Center, Cedar Rapids
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Dike-New Hartford (47-3) vs. Wapsie Valley (21-15), 2 p.m.
Council Bluffs St. Albert (27-3) vs. Unity Christian (24-10), 4 p.m.
Western Christian (37-6) vs. Iowa City Regina (28-8), 2 p.m.
Grundy Center (36-6) vs. Sidney (31-5), 4 p.m.