Comets squeeze by to sweep G-R
REINBECK — Last season when the BCLUW and Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball teams met up in Conrad, the Rebels left with a close five-set, come-from-behind victory.
The Comets had revenge on their minds on Thursday night when the two NICL West Division rivals met up for the first time this season, and revenge is just what BCLUW came away with after a three-set sweep with every game decided by the same margin, 25-23, 25-23, 25-23.
Comets junior Madi Ubben said handing the Rebels their first division loss of the year was a great feeling.
“Obviously we wanted to win because it’s conference, but this game was probably our most important conference match just because of last year,” she said. “That third set, we knew it wasn’t done yet because of last year, so we knew we had to finish it.”
Each set was tied at 23-all, and each time BCLUW (5-2, 1-0) came off of a timeout and won the next two points to take the set. Easton Swanson, the team leader in kills with eight, closed out the first set with an emphatic kill, Ubben scored the point that gave the Comets the lead in the second set, and Jade Hammers came up big with some timely kills late in the third to hand her team the victory.
“I just felt like our girls just stayed competitive from the beginning to the end,” BCLUW head coach Kristen Garber said. “We didn’t really have ups and downs where we let up. They went on runs because they’ve got some good hitters and some good players, but I felt like we didn’t let that get us down and we just stayed competitive.”
Hammers finished just behind Swanson with six kills, while Ubben had four. Seven total girls scored at least one kill for the Comets, showing the team’s new well-rounded offense, and the girls didn’t miss a single serve, going 74-for-74 from the back line.
“They were serving where I was telling them to and I was telling them that for a reason,” Garber said. “I thought Lizzie [Garber] especially there at the end, the youngest girl out there with the least experience, she was hitting spots and keeping them out of their system on the serve.”
While BCLUW got the win, Gladbrook-Reinbeck sophomore Saari Kuehl was easily the most explosive force in the game for both teams. Kuehl led the Rebels with 24 kills on the night, and Garber said her presence was definitely felt.
“Saari is quite good and she is going to do nothing but get better,” Garber said. “She’s only a sophomore and she’s hard to defend because we kind of make a gamplan for what we want to do but she can put the ball wherever she wants.”
Ubben had the task of following Kueh nearly anywhere she went on the court, which led to four blocks for the Comet junior, though she admitted she had to work for them.
“My main focus was obviously on her so when she was in the front coach Garber said I always need to know where she’s at so I might cheat that way,” Ubben said. “Even one blocker is better on their other hitters than having Saari with an open hit, I kind of stuck with her and even when I was in the back row with her I kind of shadowed her.”
Rebels head coach Paula Kelley said Kuehl has developed significantly since her freshman year, a year she still led the team in kills.
“She is just great, she has matured so much more even from last year,” Kelley said. “You give her the ball and she finds holes. She can see the court and she knows how to change it up now. Last year she would hit different angles, this year she is much more of a placement player. She can find the lines and she knows where the tips are. She is smart, strong and tall and our best defensive back player too.”
As for her team losing such a close match, Kelley said she was just happy to give the home crowd a good, close match to cheer during.
“Those were great games, you can’t ask for anything more,” she said. “Both teams left everything out there, it fell the way it fell and you can’t do anything about it. I am just glad they were good games for everybody to watch.”
The match had a little extra meaning than just the first NICL West game of the year for both teams, as the 1988 Gladbrook-Reinbeck state runner-up team was honored before the contest, a team that featured both Garber and Kelley.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking because Kristen and I want what’s best for each other, yet we want to compete and we want to show our teammates what we’ve done with our programs,” Kelley said. “It was fun to play and it was great matches.”
“It was really an emotional night for me, it’s been an emotional week leading up to this because I knew a lot of folks were coming back and these are my people,” Garber said. “These are my friends, so I knew it was going to be fun to have them here tonight but it was also a little stressful because I don’t like to lose and I really don’t like to lose in front of my people.”