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G-R’s shot at Spartans misses target

T-R PHOTO BY NOAH ROHLFING - Gladbrook-Reinbeck junior Mahayla Olson (5) hits down the line past Grundy Center’s Ellery Luhring during Tuesday’s NICL West Division volleyball match in Reinbeck.

REINBECK — It’s been quite a long time since the No. 5 Gladbrook-Reinbeck Rebels volleyball team lost a set. Coming into Tuesday night’s home matchup with local rivals and NICL West rivals Grundy Center, the Rebels had won every set they played in since Sept. 8 in a 3-1 win over AGWSR, and they’d lost three sets all season.

They lost three to the Spartans, who surprised G-R and pulled off the 3-1 upset on the Rebels’ home court.

Before the game, Grundy Center was boosted by the return of setter Ellie Luhring from an ankle injury suffered Aug. 29. This change allowed libero Jacque Kuester to return to her natural position and put the Spartans at full strength.

The Spartans hit G-R in the mouth in the first set, jumping out to a 16-11 lead before Rebels coach Paula Kelley took a timeout to try and stem the tide.

Kelley said Grundy Center did a good job on defense. The Rebels weren’t able to create as many kills, creating only 30 on the night. Saari Kuehl led the team with 11, while Mahayla Olson recorded seven. Emma McClintock had 26 assists.

T-R PHOTO BY NOAH ROHLFING - Gladbrook-Reinbeck senior outside hitter Saari Kuehl, right, goes up for the attack against Grundy Center during Tuesday’s NICL West Division volleyball match Tuesday in Reinbeck.

“They were playing defense in spots where we hit the ball, so that made a difference where we didn’t get as many kills [as] we normally do,” Kelley said. “We haven’t had a good front row blocking team as strong as they have all season long, so that made a difference as well.”

The Rebels couldn’t find their way back into the set, falling 25-16 and facing a deficit. They responded strongly by charging ahead in the second set to tie up the game at 1-1 with a 25-16 win.

The win in set two was the only time where Gladbrook-Reinbeck was clearly in rhythm, Kelley said after the game. Grundy Center was buzzing all over the floor and making crazy saves, forcing the Rebels to work harder than they’ve had to in most games in order to win points.

The lack of rhythm would come back to haunt them in the final two sets of the night.

The third and fourth sets followed a similar pattern: Gladbrook-Reinbeck got an early lead and went firmly in front about midway through the action, forcing a timeout from the Spartans. Then, the Rebels would start to stutter as Grundy Center started to pick up momentum.

T-R PHOTO BY NOAH ROHLFING

Closing sets have been an issue for G-R all year, Kelley said, and it continued to prove a sticking point on this occasion.

In both sets, the Rebels had to call a timeout after their lead was cut to one — 19-18 in set three and set four. It was a time where G-R was trying to dig deep and close the door on a Grundy Center comeback, but in both sets the Spartans proved to have too much inertia.

“I feel like we were just panicking too much,” Kelley said. “Our passes just didn’t get where we normally see them. They did a really nice job of putting it in places to keep us out of system, and we just couldn’t get back in system enough for enough runs.”

Grundy Center took the third set 25-23, and with the score 24-23 in the Spartans’ favor and the match on the line, Lainy Thoren got a kill for Grundy Center. The match was over, the Spartan fans in attendance went into pandemonium, and G-R was left to pick up the pieces after its first loss of conference play.

The Rebels recorded seven aces — RiLynn Bergmann and Olson leading the team with two apiece. On defense, Alyssa Morgan led the team with 21 digs, followed closely by Kuehl’s 18. Olson had 13 as well.

T-R PHOTO BY NOAH ROHLFING

The Rebels are going to take this surprising loss as a chance to learn, Kelley said.

“The loss is gonna be tough,” Kelley said. “Grundy played an excellent game against us and we’re just going to have to take some takeaways from that.”

G-R plays Jesup Oct. 8 on the road at 5:30 p.m.

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