CEDAR RAPIDS – The scoreboard read 12-0. The Harlan fans, donning red, some even in Santa Claus outfits, weren’t jolly. The Solon fans saw the run, euphorically cheering at every point. But there were six people in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena oblivious to the fact.
Athletes talk about being a zone, fully focused on the task at hand and blocking out the surrounding elements. They dream about being in one during the most important game of the season. Wednesday Solon accomplished the feat against Harlan.
“We were totally shocked,” Solon senior Kelsey Hinrichs said. “There was a timeout out and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the score?’”
The 12 straight points in the first set to set the tone for a three game sweep. Once the Spartans had their foot on the gas pedal, they never relinquished it.
“We work on that in practice, keep pushing every point. We don’t think about the runs,” Hinrichs said. “Like we didn’t know the score, we keep pushing every point. Every point’s a new point.”
The Spartans are at their best when they have blinders on and push the tempo. Solon won the first set 25-11, and pulled away in the second 25-20, where it pieced together a 9-2 run.
But in the third, the Spartans began to peer at the scoreboard. They stopped setting the tempo and instead looked for Harlan to make mistakes.
“That’s what I noticed in the third game,” Solon head coach Peter Gustin said. “We got up to 9-9, Harlan tied it up and I said ‘Girls, it’s tentative, you know, you’ve got to be assertive in a match like this. You can’t wait for them to make mistakes. They’re too good of a team.’”
And the Spartans silence their best player. Solon sent three blockers on Jess Schaben. The sophomore led the Cyclones with 401 blocks during the regular season. No other Harlan hitter had more than 138.
Even when the Schaben wasn’t entirely blocked, the Spartans managed to get a hand on her kill attempt and extend the set.
When there wasn’t a deflection, Rylee Smith was there.
“Rylee’s fearless, 6-2,6-8 whoever it is, Rylee’s going to get down low and get that ball up,” Gustin said. “That set the tone for us immediately.”
Not all the kill attempts or serves were picked off cleanly though. And even starting up 12-0 and executing the game defensive game plan, like any good coach, Gustin found things to work on for Thursday’s practice.
“If we can pick up some of those missed serves we’re going to be a real, real tough team for whoever the rest of the way out.”