DIKE — Big Blue is back, and better than ever before.
As if it ever really went away.
One of the cornerstones of Iowa high school volleyball, Dike-New Hartford appears to be on the verge of a second dynasty. The Wolverines are defending Class 2A state champions. They’re undefeated. They’re widely considered the best team in any class.
And they’re ranked No. 9 in the country by prepvolleyball.com.
“(The national ranking) hasn’t really sunk in,” said Lizzy Blough. “We’ve played together a long time and we’ve won a lot of matches. But being ranked so high, that hasn’t sunk in. It’s an honor.”
Dike-New Hartford isn’t going away any time soon. Blough is part of a sophomore class that includes UNI commitments Briana Weber and Rachel Koop, as well as 6-foot-4 Brooke Morgan.
Those four players were member of the Six Pack 16-and-under club team that won a national championship last summer in Columbus, Ohio. Koop and Weber were on the all-tournament team there.
There’s talent here. And there’s more.
“The girls are so dedicated about the extra stuff — getting in the weight room, the mental aspect of the game,” said DNH Coach Diane Harms. “They’re always staying after to set and hit some extra balls.”
The extra stuff put Dike-New Hartford over the top last year, when they upset Western Christian in straight sets to claim the 2A title. It was the eighth title by this program (Dike won five 1A titles in a row from 1985 through 1989, before consolidation), but the first since 1997.
And it was Harms’ first conquest of Western Christian in four tries.
“It was exciting,” Weber said. “People had gotten used to us getting beat (by Western). I’m glad we had the opportunity to be the ones that turned it around.”
Now, the roles are reversed. The Wolverines (42-0) are the favorites, and justifiably so. They are on a 54-match winning streak, and they have amassed a 98-2 set record against a loaded schedule. Of their 42 match victories, 12 have come against teams that reached the state tournament — two against Class 5A No. 1 Ankeny.
DNH faces Sumner-Fredericksburg in a 2A quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
State tournaments are nothing new here. Between Dike and DNH, this is the 23rd time in state field. If there was a Mount Rushmore for Iowa volleyball programs, one of the stone faces surely would represent this Grundy County school.
Harms went through school nearby at Reinbeck, then Parkersburg, then graduated from Eldora-New Providence before playing basketball at the University of Northern Iowa.
She coached volleyball 11 years at Charles City, then the position at Dike-New Hartford opened up in 2003, when program founder Barb Bakker retired.
“My husband (Lawrence) worked in Waterloo, and it was great to be closer to his job,” Harms said. “I was teaching three subjects at Charles City, it’s more like one here.”
Not long after Harms’ arrival, this current sophomore class came through the elementary ranks, and Harms was key in its development.
“We started in AAU as fourth-graders. She taught us everything,” Koop said. “She taught us the way it is … there is no easy way. No short cuts.”
Blough said, “When we got started, Coach was so good about teaching the basics. She was able to tell us what we were doing wrong so we could fix it.”
The Wolverines gathered in Harms’ classroom Thursday before practice. The item of discussion: Which color for state-tournament apparel — teal or charcoal gray?
“This is my least favorite part of the whole deal,” Harms laughed.
The most favorite part comes this week. A DNH-Western Christian rematch seems to be predestined.
“We’re hoping to finish the deal again at state, then have a couple more exciting years,” Weber said. “We still have a lot to learn and a lot of improvement to make.”
And, possibly, a new Big Blue dynasty to forge.
NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL RANKINGS (prepvolleyball.com)
1. Papillion-La Vista (Neb.) South
2. Wildwood (Mo.) Lafayette
3. San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty
4. Lakeville (Minn.) North
5. Louisville (Ky.) Assumption
6. Honolulu (Hawaii) Ponahou
7. San Antonio (Texas) Reagan
8. Redondo Beach (Calif.) Redondo Union
9. Dike-New Hartford
10. Orlando (Fla.) Bishop Moore