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The Gazette KCRG
Posted August 19, 2012
Redemption on Little Hawks’ radar

Michaela Nelson (right) hits the ball against Abby Saehler during volleyball practice at Iowa City High on Aug. 14. City High returns most of its attack from a team that was the Class 4A state runner-up last year. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — In last year’s Class 4A state volleyball final, Iowa City High was “the other team.”

“I think, with all the circumstances, everybody was rooting for (Iowa City) West to win,” said Little Hawks Coach Craig Pitcher.

Rooting for West? Or rooting for a storyline?

Surely you remember the theme of the 2011 season: Live Like Line. West overcame the death of setter Caroline Found to make it back to the championship match, then rallied from a two-game deficit to beat City for the title.

You remember. And so do the Little Hawks.

“I don’t want to relive that match,” said Liz Hubing, one of four returning hitters for City High determined to make amends come November. “I try to forget about it. In order to move forward, we need to put it behind us.”

For much of the match, City High — “the other team” — was the better team. The Little Hawks won the first two games, then had opportunities galore to take control of Game 5.

But they missed five straight serves late in the set, and that ultimately cost them.

“If you keep on dwelling on it, you move yourself into a wall,” Pitcher said. “You can’t replay it. I’ve watched the replay a couple times, and the result is the same.”

So now, the Little Hawks have a storyline of their own. Redemption.

“We’re definitely motivated,” Michaela Nelson said. ”What happened last year … that definitely put a fire under our butts.”

The Little Hawks are motivated. And extremely talented.

Three all-staters return from a team that finished 40-4, with three losses coming to their crosstown rivals. Nelson, now a junior, was an Elite all-state pick. Hubing and Rachel Rinehart were 4A third-team selections and are seniors this season.

Liz Hubing laughs with teammates during volleyball practice. Hubing is one of three returning all-staters for City High. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

That trio, when combined with senior Abby Saehler, gives City High a front line that nobody in the state can equal.

“Hitting-wise, we’re loaded,” Pitcher said. “You can’t camp out on one kid.”

The numbers reflect that. Nelson averaged 3.03 kills per game last season, Rinehart 2.76, Hubing 2.49, Saehler 2.24.

“We have a lot of good hitters,” Hubing said. “Nobody is going to be a superstar, but nobody needs to be.”

There’s a catch, though. You can’t start pounding kills without a set, and setter Erin Muir has graduated.

Ruth Grace appears to be the heir apparent.

“She’s coming along,” Nelson said. “She’s getting a lot of reps and communicating well with the hitters.”

Most likely, City High will enter the season as the top-ranked team in Class 5A. The Little Hawks open at Cedar Rapids Kennedy on Aug. 28.

“Other teams are going to come to play. We have to match that,” Pitcher said. “If we do, we’re going to be pretty tough.”

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