They’ve got an all-new lineup and a brand-new coach.
But they’re still defending state champions. And they’re still alive.
The Mount Vernon Mustangs are in a familiar spot — on the brink of the state volleyball tournament. They’ll face fourth-ranked Grundy Center in a Class 2A regional final at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Vinton.
But this herd wasn’t expected to be here.
“They stuck with it, they kept trying to get better and they kept believing that good things were going to happen,” said Coach Maggie Willems.
The Mustangs (17-19) have been living in enough shadows to start a forest. Last year’s team featured three Division-I players and a hall-of-fame coach in Shirley Ryan.
“This group didn’t have any varsity experience, but it had a chance to train with some very skilled players,” said Willems, who was elevated to head coach after Ryan retired last year. “And I think that has revealed itself this year.”
The Mount Vernon-Grundy Center match is one of four Tuesday containing area teams. In other 2A contests, Dyersville Beckman takes on No. 3 Dike-New Hartford at Jesup and No. 10 West Liberty meets Davis County at Mount Pleasant.
HLV faces No. 3 Fort Madison Holy Trinity in a 1A battle at Washington.
Regional finals are Wednesday in classes 3A and 4A. Regional champions advance to the state tournament Nov. 9-12 at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Grundy Center (40-1) has won 18 straight matches, the last 13 by sweep. The Mustangs are heavy underdogs, and they’re cool with that.
“The nice thing is, you have to play the game,” Willems said. “I feel good about the way we’re playing right now. Our schedule has prepared us (27 of Mount Vernon’s 36 matches have been against 3A and 4A competition).
“For most of the season, I think anybody would tell you that we’ve passed in system well, but we weren’t connecting with our hitters. That’s been our biggest growth. We have a freshman setter (Morgan Melchert), and she’s been getting more comfortable and consistent.”
TUESDAY’S REGIONAL FINALS
MOUNT VERNON vs. GRUNDY CENTER (2A)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Vinton
Records & rankings: Mount Vernon is 17-19; No. 4 Grundy Center is 40-1.
Notable: The two-time defending state champion Mustangs are on the doorstep of their fifth straight state tournament, but the last barrier is a formidable one. Grundy Center has won 18 straight matches. The Spartans welcomed back six starters from last year’s state semifinalist, led by middle blocker Samantha Meyers (3.65 kills/game, .426 kill efficiency) and outside hitter Meghan Krausman (3.25, .452). Mount Vernon lost its entire starting lineup from its 2009 and 2010 state-championship squads to graduation. The Mustangs are 7-2 against 2A competition. Jenah Vandersall averages 2.17 kills per set.
DYERSVILLE BECKMAN vs. DIKE-NEW HARTFORD (2A)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Jesup
Records & rankings: Beckman is 20-13; No. 3 Dike-New Hartford is 40-3.
Notable: Like Mount Vernon, Beckman has cut its teeth against the Wamac East, a league that contained four ranked 3A squads. And like the Mustangs, the Blazers face a giant from the North Iowa Cedar League. Dike-New Hartford has been to state 21 times, including the last four years. Four starters are back, but two of the Wolverines’ top three hitters — Briana Weber and Lizzy Blough — are freshmen. Jenna Lansing is Beckman’s top hitting threat at 3.13 kills per set and owns a .367 kill efficiency. Beckman is pursuing its first state appearance since 2006.
WEST LIBERTY vs. DAVIS COUNTY (2A)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Mount Pleasant
Records & rankings: No. 10 West Liberty is 26-10; Davis County is 28-12.
Notable: Davis County pulled one of the state’s biggest upsets of this postseason, sweeping No. 6 Mediapolis in the regional semifinals. West Liberty is after its first state appearance since 1999; Davis County last qualified in 2001. Gina Montangna heads a balanced West Liberty attack at 3.22 kills per set. The Kelly sisters (Shannon is the setter, Marissa an outside hitter, Molly the libero) make up half of the West Liberty starting lineup. Lauren Dewes posts 3.52 kills per set for the Mustangs.
HLV vs. FORT MADISON HOLY TRINITY (1A)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Washington, Iowa
Records & rankings: HLV is 14-7; No. 3 Holy Trinity is 45-2.
Notable: Holy Trinity is heavily favored to reach state for the fifth time since 2005. The Crusaders dropped a five-set first-round match to LeMars Gehlen last year. The arrival of 6-foot-2 freshman Mikaela Foecke — the leading attacker at 3.90 kills per game and a .415 kill efficiency — enhances a squad that already had five starters coming back. HLV’s Chelsea Gryp is the fifth-leading hitter in 1A at 4.82 kills per set. The Warriors finished third in the South Iowa Cedar League and are seeking their first trip to state.