It’s been four years since Barb Sullivan left the Cedar Rapids Kennedy volleyball program to leave a fingerprint on a program of her own, a few blocks to the west.
Now, it appears she has a team that can make a legitimate claim as best in the Metro.
Champions of the Warrior Invitational on Saturday and victors over Cedar Falls on Tuesday, the Xavier Saints are 7-1 overall, 2-0 in the MVC Valley Division and rising swiftly in the Class 4A state rankings.
The Saints are No. 7 this week.
“One thing we had at Kennedy, a great strength and conditioning program,” Sullivan said. “That’s one thing I wanted to get the girls involved in here, and it’s something they’ve bought into from the beginning.”
Xavier took off immediately upon Sullivan’s arrival, advancing to the state tournament in 2009 and 2010 before falling in the 2011 regional finals to Kennedy.
The Saints get another crack at the Cougars in an MVC cross-divisional match Tuesday. And for the first time in a long time, the Saints can accurately say they stand on even footing with a program that has been the city’s best and brightest in recent years.
Saturday, they defeated a 5A-ranked Johnston team in the semifinals before avenging a pool-play defeat against Solon, beating the Spartans in three sets to take the title.
Three days later, they beat Cedar Falls in four games to remain in the first-place tie in the Valley Division with Dubuque Wahlert. Kasey VandenBosch collected 20 kills; Kayla Torson added 16.
A sophomore, Torson leads the Saints at 3.6 kills per set and a kill efficiency of .398. VandenBosch, a junior, adds 2.6 kills per game and a .370 kill rate.
Sarah Homan runs the show, averaging 9.2 assists per game. After Saturday’s triumph, she talked about big things, like a state championship.
It doesn’t sound so far-fetched.
“If you don’t aim for the top, you’re never going to reach it,” Sullivan said.
When necessary, Sullivan has an ace in her pocket for advice. Xavier principal Tom Keating won 11 state championships at Wahlert.
“He’s amazing,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had a lot of informal conversations. If we’re struggling with something, he’ll suggest a drill we can run to improve.”
The Saints compete in a tournament at North Scott on Saturday.
Familiar names, renewed success
They’ve got another Platte, another Stark, another Cochrane.
And the Mount Vernon Mustangs have got a spotless record. The 3A fourth-rated Mustangs are 8-0 overall, 2-0 in the Wamac East heading into Thursday’s match against Clear Creek Amana.
Players like Amanda Platte, Ali Stark and Karly Cochrane were instrumental in the Mustangs run that featured four state-tournament appearances from 2007 through 2010 (including championships in ’09 and ’10).
Now, Alli Platte, Marissa Stark and Emma Cochrane are in the rotation. Amanda Petrick and Hannah Whitley are the most productive hitters and Morgan Melchert is the starting setter.
Mount Vernon has not dropped a set.