MARENGO – The Iowa City Regina volleyball team didn’t win a single tournament this season. The Regals were even shut out in nine of their 11 losses.
But what set Regina up for its 3-1 (25-14, 25-17, 24-26, 25-17) Class 2A regional quarterfinal victory over Iowa Valley last night was the Class 4A and 5A competition it faced in many of those losses.
“That’s why we do it,” Regina Coach Megan Eskew said. “We play against those 5A schools (and) maybe we get beat – maybe we get beat pretty bad. But it makes us better as a team as a whole.
“It just pushes us to get better. When we would be not as successful against those 5A teams, we could practice with a little extra fire in our belly to get better.”
The strategy has panned out well for the Regals so far in the first two rounds of regional playoffs. Regina has only dropped on set, and now will host the regional semifinal on Friday.
Because of the dividends it provides, he players relish the opportunity to play teams in higher classes.
“Playing good competition only makes us better,” said senior and team kills leader Tori Owens. “That’s how we got prepared for this postseason.”
Despite the 3-1 final score, the match was back and forth throughout (one stretch across sets three and four saw 30 of 32 points played at either a tie score or a one-point lead).
The difference, though, came on the defensive side for Regina. With some big hitters for Iowa Valley in senior Natalie Demmel and sophomore Marissa Ward, the Regals were scrambling at times to make digs and keep the ball alive.
But that’s where sophomore libero Mac Conlon comes in.
“She’s crucial,” Eskew said. “I’m not going to say she’s the heart of the team, but Tori is able to get those kills and all those swings because Mac’s able to put us in a really good position defensively.
“She’s energy for our team.”
The stiff regular season competition certainly plays a role in Conlon and Regina’s defensive prowess. But perhaps more than that is the mindset Eskew puts her players in so they’re prepared defensively.
Eskew said she’s always told her players “digging is a mentality, and if you’re ready and aggressive with it and really going after it, you’re going to make more plays.”
Conlon seemed as ready and aggressive as any Regal on the floor.
“We do practice (tough digs), and a lot of it’s just reading and watching and knowing where the ball is going to be,” Conlon said. “A lot of it’s just reacting.”
Though the schedule Regina played could be seen as risky emotionally for the players – getting beat handily can hurt confidence – Eskew said her team clearly responded well to the challenge.
That response has them riding high, and waiting for a home match against West Burlington, which swept Van Buren, 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-21).
When asked what that will mean, Eskew stopped short of saying the home court advantage will guarantee a win, but gave a wide smile in appreciation of said advantage.
“We are so excited,” Eskew said. “I don’t want to say the last thing I was going to say, because I don’t want to jinx anything.
“We just love playing at home.”