CEDAR RAPIDS – The Iowa City Regina volleyball team tried really hard to put on a good face in the wake of the Regals’ loss to Class 2A No. 1 Dike-New Hartford, 25-13, 25-7, 25-14 on Wednesday.
But no matter how memorable or fun the 2013 season was, there’s no medicine for the end of the season.
“It’s hard to put into words how much it stings,” said first-year Regina Coach Megan Eskew. “It’s really tough, because we really believe in each other. And we believed that we could win that match.
“We (just) didn’t play the match we wanted to.”
The reasons for that, Eskew said, are varied.
Playing a team like the Wolverines – which ended the regular season No. 4 in the nation – can make teams do things they don’t normally, and force them to play a game they’re not used to.
Just believing and wanting it to happen, unfortunately for Regina, isn’t always enough.
“We wanted to leave it all on the floor, and I’m not sure we completely did that,” Eskew said. “It could’ve been a little bit of intimidation. We’ve never been in that arena, but now we have and that’s out of our system, thank goodness.”
Still, the former Iowa Hawkeye said there wasn’t total disappointment coming away from this season.
It was a year of firsts and renewal for most of the team, and Eskew – at times fighting back tears – repeatedly mentioned how special the experience has been.
“It’s hard to be too disappointed, though, because of the amazing season these girls had,” Eskew said. “They’ve been counted out all year and proven people wrong over and over again. Just their heart and their passion for each other and the game is just remarkable.
“I’m proud of these girls and how much they’ve transformed from the beginning of the year.”
For Tori Owens, the ride is over in a Regals uniform. The senior, who carried Regina to state on the strength of 52 kills in the regional final against West Branch, had one overwhelming feeling following the loss.
It wasn’t anger or sadness, it was pride.
“This year has been amazing,” Owens said. “Going to practice every day, working as hard as we did and being able to accomplish to qualify here is a great feeling. I’m just very proud of my team and how we played this season.”
With a young team, Eskew said the team can use this year and even the loss to Dike-New Hartford as a stepping stone.
Coaches can teach a lot, but experience isn’t one of them.
“I told the younger girls, ‘OK, now we’re here, now we know what it’s like. We can’t make that excuse again,’” Eskew said. “We just talked about how much work it’s going to take to get us to that level (of a Dike-New Hartford), and we believe we can do it. We don’t have to have those tall girls, but we have to use what we have and work hard and work together, and we can be here next year as well.”
For Dike-New Hartford, the goal of a third straight state championship moved a step closer to reality.
But even though the Wolverines were heavily favored and feature multiple Division 1 commitments capable of dominating matches, Coach Diane Hams wasn’t about to take Iowa City Regina lightly.
Especially after Owens’ 52-kill performance in the regional final.
“I think our serving picked up where we were able to get them to where they were a bit more off-balanced offensively,” Hams said. “We didn’t want to have (Owens) really start to get going.
“We were definitely trying to not let her get going.”
Dike-New Hartford did so effectively, and Eskew said Owens didn’t really have a chance to get going because the Regals weren’t receiving balls well and weren’t able to set her up.
And the times she did get a chance, Owens had towering middle blockers – including 6-foot-5 Wisconsin commit Brooke Morgan – there waiting.
“I noticed every time I went up to swing, I had a good, solid block up on me,” Owens said.
In the end, the well-oiled machine that was the Wolverines’ offense left the Regals stymied.
“Our blockers were kind of stuck, I would say, because we just couldn’t cover all the areas,” Eskew said. “We couldn’t really handle their offense. And we had planned to serve well enough to get them out of their attacking system, but didn’t quite go how we wanted it to.”
Dike-New Hartford will play Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont on Thursday at 4 p.m.