CEDAR RAPIDS — They have a new coach, different players and a completely different identity.
But don’t snooze on the Mount Vernon Mustangs. And don’t dismiss them.
Tenth-ranked Mount Vernon used a balanced, disciplined offense and was unflappable on the floor in a four-set victory over No. 2 Davenport Assumption in a Class 3A quarterfinal at the state volleyball tournament Thursday afternoon at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Scores were 25-22, 20-25, 25-22 and 25-17.
“I turned to my assistants when we were getting in line to shake hands, and I said, ‘Is this real?’ ” said Mount Vernon Coach Maggie Willems, in her second year as head coach after assisting now-retired Hall of Fame coach Shirley Ryan.
“This feels awfully good, and I’m so excited for these kids.”
Mount Vernon — which will play No. 3 MOC-Floyd Valley (31-8) in a semifinal at 3:30 p.m. Friday — is two years removed from back-to-back state championships. Those teams had once-in-a-lifetime size and Division-I talent.
This team has nobody taller than 5-foot-10. But it has enough grit and athleticism to frustrate and annoy.
“They’ve got a really great back row, probably one of the best we’ve seen all year.” said Assumption’s Hailey Schneden. “They were the difference. As a hitter, it gets a little frustrating when they (dig) everything back.”
Plus, the Mustangs (28-10) have belief. Their motto coming into the tournament: “Why Not Us?”
In each game, closing time was Mount Vernon’s time.
The Mustangs trailed the first set, 20-17, before scoring five straight points to take the lead.
At 22-21, Hannah Whitley smacked back-to-back kills to give Mount Vernon some breathing room.
Whitley was a victim of a broken nose in a basketball game last winter and has worn a protective mask this volleyball season.
“If I break it again, I can’t play for a year,” Whitley said. “The mask is a pain, but I live with it.”
After dropping the second set, Mount Vernon rallied from a 17-15 deficit in the Game 3, going on a 7-1 run for a 22-18 lead.
In Game 4, the Mustangs trailed, 16-15, before closing with a 10-1 run.
Assumption outkilled the Mustangs, 51-44, but committed twice as many attacking errors (28-14).
Chelsey Schirm, Alli Platte and Emma Cochrane accumulated 10 kills apiece for Mount Vernon. Whitley added nine.
“We wanted to stretch and go to all the hitters,” said Mustangs setter Morgan Melchert, who distributed 34 assists. “We were able to set them all. We wanted to exploit the right side when (Assumption’s Danielle Cabel) was in the back row.”
Platte and Cochrane are younger sisters of players that were instrumental in Mount Vernon’s recent string of four straight state tournaments (2007-10). So is libero Marissa Stark, who collected 40 digs.
Cabel led all hitters with 18 kills, but had 14 errors, including three straight in Mount Vernon’s late run in Game 4.
Mount Vernon will be an underdog again Friday against MOC-Floyd Valley, which beat No. 9 Red Oak in four sets.
But, in Willems’ words: Why not?