CEDAR RAPIDS – The West Delaware Hawks were comfortable staring up at the pedestal that defending Class 3A state champion Waverly-Shell Rock was placed, because it made it easier for them to knock them off.
The third-ranked Hawks cherished the role as underdogs as they dethroned the Go-Hawks, 25-17, 23-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-11, in the semifinals of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union 3A state volleyball tournament Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We were put into a great position, because pressure was off and all we wanted to do was have fun,” Hawks senior Jessica McDonald said, “ and show them we weren’t technically underdogs.”
Pressure was off, but the confidence was up. West Delaware (41-3), whose three losses this season have come to top-ranked Mount Vernon (40-0), put in the effort and possessed the unity to pull the so-called upset.
“We knew we worked three hours a day, at least,” said Mackenzie DeHarbaugh, who led West Delaware with 15 kills. “We are a huge family that’s been together since fifth grade. We have worked together.”
Those losses to Mount Vernon, their opponent in Saturday’s 3A title game, actually prepared them for this type of foe.
“With all those losses, I think our girls got a little bit hungrier,” West Delaware Coach Brett Mather said. “That’s what you have to take out of a loss is to get more incentive and drive and that’s what we did.”
They also used a balanced attack. Four Hawks had double-digit kills. Allison Pasker had 14 and McDonald added 11. Jenna Hermsen logged 57 assists, which is four shy of the state record. The most surprising contribution came from Amanda Reetz, who had 12 kills coming off the bench to replace Brooke Engelken after she was carried off the court from a knee injury. Mather said Engelken will likely miss the finals, saying the injury appeared to a ligament or kneecap.
“You can’t block just any one player,” Mather said about his team’s balance. “We’re certainly proud of what we did,” Mather said. “We’re proud of Amanda Reetz, coming in doing a great job for us.”
The Hawks soared to an opening game win in part to an 11-4 run to close it out.The second game was indicative of the whole match with both teams exchanging points before the Go-Hawks won the final two points, including one of Rachel Peth’s 16 kills.
West Delaware always seem to answer for the Go-Hawks and gave them fits with defense, forcing hitting, blogging and digging errors.
“They play good defense,” Woodin said. “They kept the ball alive and gave it back to us and we made some errors we don’t normally don’t make.”
After overcoming a 3-0 deficit, West Delaware took an 11-10 lead and never trailed to take the third. The teams battled back and forth, and the Hawks role helped them maintain a level head.
“We relaxed and calmed down. There were a few times that we got a little bit tense there,” Mather said. “All in all our girls handled everything extremely well.”
The Hawks even held a lead late in the fourth before the Go-Hawks claimed seven of the last nine points, including a four-point streak to take a 22-20 lead.
West Delaware took control of the fifth, leading the entire match after Waverly scored the first point. McDonald got the Hawks on the board with a kill and helped close the game with another kill and her game-high fourth ace late.
WSR also had a player go down to a knee injury. Shortly after Engelken was injured, Ali Ingersoll, a starting outside hitter went down. She left the arena on crutches and Go-Hawks Coach Eavon Woodin said it may have been a knee cap injury.
Morgan Kuhrt 29 kills and Kinsey Caldwell had 52 assists to lead the Go-Hawks (49-2).
“Morgan is a great athlete,” Woodin said. “We were setting her wherever she was going because she was our go-to player.”
Mather said he loves the fact the Wamac is represented by two teams in the 3A finals. Of course, he doesn’t mind the underdog role either.
“We know we’re an even bigger underdog tomorrow in that match up,” Mather said. “That’s OK. We’re going to go in there with guns a blazing and see what we can do against the Mustangs.”
MOUNT VERNON 3, SIOUX CITY HEELAN 1
It was the type of game the Mustangs like to play, and the Heelan brought that intense dynamic to their 3A semifinal of the IGHSAU state tournament.
Despite losing just its second game of the year, top-ranked Mount Vernon earned a fourth straight state finals berth with a 26-24, 25-13, 23-25, 25-17 win Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“Those are our favorite games, really,” Mount Vernon’s Ali Stark said. “We love the intense competition and those are really the best games to get to play in.”
They advance the 3A championship for the third time since 2007. The only time they were there the Mustangs won last year’s 2A title. They face West Delaware in the championship Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Stark said. “We’ve been working hard all year and this is where we wanted to be since the beginning so I know we’ll definitely bring our A-game.”
The Mustangs (40-0) captured the opening-game and then stampede their way to a win in the second. Mount Vernon never trailed, doubling Heelan 16-8 and 24-12 on the scoreboard before closing it out.
Just like the first game, Heelan traded point for point with the Mustangs in the third, scoring six of the last eight points to force a fourth game. Katelyn Walsh had 15 kills and Leisa McClintock had 35 assists for the Crusaders (46-10). The loss was rare and after some relaxation breathing from Coach Shirley Ryan to regain focus the Mustangs were ready.
“That was our only second game loss, so that’s a pretty big deal,” Mount Vernon’s Amanda Platte said. “I think that makes us push hard. Keep on driving. We don’t like losing.”
But that was all Mustangs, who bolted to a 6-0 lead, thanks to three straight kills from Platte, who finished with 17. Stark added 25, while Sarah Ryan had 55 assists and three aces.
“It was balanced,” Ryan said. “Everything’s about team and not about individuals. Any given match an individual might have an outstanding performance and certainly Ali and Amanda had great kill stats.”
Ali Ingersoll, Ali Stark, Allison Pasker, Amanda Platte, Amanda Reetz, Brett Mather, Brooke Engelken, Class 3A semifinals, Crusaders, Eavon Woodin, Go-Hawks, Hawks, IGHSAU, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Jessica McDonald, Katelyn Walsh, Kinsey Caldwell, leisa McClintock, mackenzie Harbaugh, Morgan Kuhrt, Mount Vernon, Mustangs, prep volleyball, Rachel Peth, Sarah Ryan, Shirley Ryan, Sioux City Heelan, state tournament, Waverly-Shell Rock, West Delaware