Spartans sweep aside Sidney to advance to state semifinals
CEDAR RAPIDS — It was clear from the moment it stepped on the court at the U.S. Cellular Center on Wednesday that the Grundy Center volleyball team had taken its play to new heights.
From the early going of set one, the No. 3 Spartans were already looking sharp and focused in their round-one matchup against No. 6 Sidney on the Class 2A side of the Iowa Girls’ High School State Volleyball Tournament, and they never let the Cowgirls gain any traction, winning in a three-set sweep, 25-12, 25-17, 25-18.
Grundy Center head coach Lori Willis said she knew even in that first set that her girls were going to move on to the next round.
“In set one, I loved the mentality that the girls had,” she said. “They weren’t tight, they were communicating so well, I knew they were dialed in and focused and that they wanted it.”
Part of why her girls showed so much poise to start was because of their experience at state last season. Every starter on the floor for the Spartans returned from the 2016 run, and junior Kylie Willis said since they had been there before, the team knew what to expect.
“We were more anxious to play than nervous now, since we knew the state feel, and it was awesome to come out here and get a win because we haven’t had a win in the quarterfinals for a long time,” Kylie said.
Senior Landry Luhring earned her first state win after losing in the first round both her freshman and junior seasons, and she said she truly wasn’t worried about her team’s chances in the first round.
“Coming in here I really didn’t have any nerves, I was just super excited and we were ready to come out here and try to kick butt,” Luhring said.
And kick butt the Spartans did, specifically on the offensive side where Kylie Willis, Brooke Flater and Hailey Wallis each had double-digit kills.
Flater and Wallis were the stars early on, but Willis finished strong, taking over as the kill leader by the end with 13, compared to 12 and 11 kills from Flater and Wallis respectively.
Wallis said a big factor in her hot start to the match was the energy from a great Grundy Center contingency that made the trip to watch the Spartans play.
“I was really excited, we were feeding off the energy from the crowd and obviously we are at state so it is a whole new atmosphere,” she said. “Those excited kind of nerves you have kind of fed into our momentum.”
Flater said, though she and the other offensive threats were able to score the points, it was great sets from Sydney Mathews and Emerson Kracht that really got the offense going.
“It was really great, we just knew we had to come in and swing hard and just put the ball down,” Flater said. “The setters did an amazing job putting the ball where we wanted it to go and our passes were great getting it to the setters too.”
Kracht led the way on the setting end with 23 assists, followed by Mathews with 10.
Coach Willis agreed with her girls, saying as a whole they played great complimentary volleyball, though they do still have some room for improvement.
“I was very happy with our level of play,” Willis said. “Could we pass the ball a little better? Absolutely. Could we hit the ball and set the ball a little better? Absolutely. So that’s great to know that we aren’t peaking yet, that we still have some left in the tank for us.”
Before heading out to Cedar Rapids, Willis said she thought her team’s diverse attack would lead to a first-round victory, and that definitely was the case on Wednesday afternoon. Even the Spartans’ fourth-best kill mark — seven by Luhring — was just one below Sidney’s kill leader, Camryn McClintock with eight.
Sidney head coach Amy McClintock said, in the end, her girls just didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with a team like Grundy Center.
“It seemed like we would get a bit of a run going but then they would get the ball back and score three, four, five in a row and that’s hard,’ McClintock said. “Volleyball is a huge momentum game so that’s hard to manage, but I am proud of the girls though. They hung in there and never gave up, sometimes when you get in that situation and you are getting beaten by scores that seem far apart you give up, but I don’t feel like the girls played like the scores showed.”
Willis said having her offense firing on all cylinders isn’t just great for the win they got on Wednesday, it’s a good omen for the matchup they will face in the semifinals.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking about in set two,” Willis said of her team’s offensive options. “I thought ‘oh my gosh, how amazing is it that each girl gets to shine today?’ It didn’t matter who, and that just keeps the other team guessing, and that keeps Western Christian thinking ‘OK, who are we going to focus on and what are we going to do?’ I thought they did a great job of everyone getting their moment to shine, and that’s just breathtaking.”
Grundy Center and Western Christian have a history with each other in the state tournament, and that’s putting it lightly. Four of the last six times the Spartans made the trip to state, the Wolfpack sent them home, including a loss in the first round last year.
Wallis said the team wasn’t ready to take on Western last season in the first round, but now that they have another year of growth under their belts, they are ready for what the Wolfpack will throw at them.
“Last year was most of our first year being at state so we were all just excited to be here, but this year we are going out with determination,” Wallis said.
In the first round against Iowa City Regina, Western dominated both the first and third sets, though the Regals did manage to make the second set close, falling 25-20 in the frame.
Unlike Grundy Center, the Wolfpack get most of their offensive production from two girls, Ashtyn Veerbeek and Jessi De Jager, who had 20 and 15 kills respectively against Iowa City Regina.
Veerbeek actually led 2A in kills heading into state with 506, the third-best mark in the state regardless of class. Because of that reliance on two stellar players, however, Luhring said she thinks the Spartans have the upper hand.
“I think this year we match up with them pretty well considering we’ve seen so much improvement in all of our hitters and our passing,” Luhring said. “We are ready to come out and play.”
Willis agreed that her girls have some favorable matchups against Western, but the Wolfpack also have some favorable matchups against Grundy Center, which is the formula needed for a possible instant classic in the semifinals.
“I think it’s going to be an epic battle,” Willis said. “I really think that we are going to match up strong with them, and I think they are obviously going to match up strong with us. They have a strong tradition, we have a strong tradition, but we are ready to break through. This team is absolutely ready to break through.”
Grundy Center and Western Christian meet up in the state semifinals starting at 4 p.m. today on Court 2 at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Dike-New Hartford def. Wapsie Valley, 25-12, 25-9, 25-9
Council Bluffs St. Albert def. Unity Christian, 25-17, 25-16, 26-24
Western Christian def. Iowa City Regina, 25-10, 25-20, 25-12
Grundy Center def. Sidney, 25-12, 25-17, 25-18
Thursday, Nov. 9
Dike-New Hartford (48-3) vs. Council Bluffs St. Albert (28-3), 4 p.m.
Western Christian (38-6) vs. Grundy Center (37-6), 4 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 10
Semifinal winners, 4:45 p.m.