CEDAR RAPIDS – It could have been played on Saturday for the state championship. Both teams were no strangers to Cedar Rapids. West Delaware made its seventh appearance in a decade while Bishop Heelan returned for the 10th straight time.
But for the Crusaders, they boasted more experience, but four of their six starters were making their debuts in state. But there were two seniors with plenty of experience and they just so happened to occupy the front line in Laura Twiford and Lauren Brobst.
“They have such a phenomenal front line. If you can’t get the ball past the front line, you can’t hit their back row, which I think is their weakness, if they have a weakness,” West Delaware head coach Brett Mather said. “Their front line is just so solid.”
Mather’s bunch couldn’t clear the Bishop Heelan front line enough as the Crusaders won in fourth sets, 3-1.
Bishop Heelan took the first two sets pretty easily 25-17 and 25-19. That’s when the youth began to show.
“You’ve got four kids who’ve never played in a state tournament,” Bishop Heelan head coach Mary Miller said. “You know I was very pleased the way we came back and kept the composure in number four.”
After taking the third set, the Hawks played the Crusaders tough, tying the set at 14-14. But the youth lost its naiveté and grew up, wining the next five points. Sophomore Rachel Vondrak led the surge with two kills.
In addition to the offense putting points on the board, the defense kept West Delaware at bay.
“Defensively, I think we picked it up,” Miller said. “And our serving. We missed a lot of serves in that third set.”
The defense managed to contain the Hawks’ leading scorer. Senior Leslie Hoffman entered the match with 397 kills on the season. The Crusaders forced her to score tap kills. After the first couple of sets she adjusted and still finished with 16 kills to lead all players.
“We always tell the girls, find a way to score,” Mather said. “Les Hoff is definitely a scorer out there for us. She has to be a scorer if where going to be successful.”
Hoffman played the role of scorer but in the end didn’t have enough firepower to match the twin towers the Crusaders present. Like appearing in state, advancing for Bishop is nothing new. It’s also the 10th straight year the Crusaders will play in a semifinal match, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t special.
“That’s, it really is, really, really amazing. I don’t know. It just tells you the quality of volleyball that Heelan has had,” Miller said. “Not only, there’s been great coaches, but also you have to give the credit to the kids because when they get down here, they mean business.”