CEDAR RAPIDS — This year’s return to the U.S. Cellular Center coincided with, according to Mike Dick, perhaps volleyball’s finest hour in Iowa.
“The level of volleyball is awfully good right now,” said Dick, the executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. “It’s probably the premier sport right now in Iowa.
“All you have to do is look at all the Division-I players right now on the rosters.”
Class 5A state champion Bettendorf has three, including Georgia-bound Devan Porter, who was thrilled to move from Tennessee because Iowa provides “better competition.”
Three-time 2A state champ Dike-New Hartford has three for now (and they’re all juniors), and that number will likely swell to four.
You’ve got Harlan’s Jess Schaben and MOC-Floyd Valley’s Alexis Conaway, both bound for Iowa State. You’ve got Mikaela Foecke of Fort Madison Holy Trinity, who has chosen Nebraska.
And there’s plenty more.
The website prepvolleyball.com knows what’s going on in Iowa. Dike-New Hartford is ranked No. 4 in its national poll. Bettendorf, Western Christian and Harlan join the Wolverines in the top 60.
“There’s quality, and there’s parity,” Dick said. “You didn’t see many blowouts here.”
Three No. 1-ranked teams dropped their opening set in quarterfinal play, and one of them (Ankeny) was upset in the first round.
The tournament returned downtown after a two-year absence (it was at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in 2011 and 2012, during renovation to the U.S. Cellular Center).
“It was all we could have asked for, and more,” Dick said. “I’m sure we’ll make some minor tweaks for next year, but we’re thrilled. Attendance was good, and most importantly, the level of volleyball was exceptional.”
A QUICK PEEK AT 2014
With the return of D-I commitments Brooke Morgan (Wisconsin), Briana Weber and Rachel Koop (both UNI), plus Lizzy Blough, Dike-New Hartford is the logical pick to reign in 2A next season for the fourth year in a row, though annual power Western Christian will continue to pursue the Wolverines.
How about the other classes? Here’s a quick look ahead (assuming no changes in classification):
* Class 5A – The city of Ankeny figures to be the hub of big-school volleyball. Semifinalist Ankeny Centennial brings back four starters, including elite hitter Jaali Winters. Ankeny High was No. 1 before falling to West Des Moines Dowling in the quarterfinals and welcomes back the bulk of its attackers, but will be searching for a new setter.
* Class 4A — Schaben is only a junior, as are the majority of her teammates, and that leaves Harlan as the team to beat after edging Solon for the title this season. Solon and West Delaware will be the best of a stacked Wamac; the Spartans welcome back both of their Jordans (Smith and Runge) plus setter Taylor Nearad while the Hawks lose only one player from their rotation (leading hitter Paige Soppe).
* Class 3A — Without a doubt, the most wide-open class. Two-time champion MOC-Floyd Valley will lose much of its firepower, as does Carroll Kuemper, this year’s runner-up. Again, start in the Wamac. Mount Vernon graduates leading hitter Hannah Whitley, but that’s it. Independence made giant strides, and if the Mustangs continue their upward curve, consider them contenders. Nevada, Red Oak and Sheldon also return significant pieces.
* Class 1A — Runner-up Fort Madison Holy Trinity is the team to beat behind Foecke. But there’s more … the rest of the starting lineup returns intact around her. Janesville, this year’s champion, will reload around Kendyl Sorge and Gillian Gergen. Semifinalists Central Lyon and LeMars Gehlen will be as good as anyone else.
HOW DID WE DO?
As the week progressed, our tournament predictions got stronger.
After a first-day mark of 5-5, it improved from there to the final tune of 25-10.
Four champions were correctly identified — Bettendorf in 5A, MOC-Floyd Valley in 3A, DNH in 2A and Janesville in 1A. Our champion in 4A, Solon was beaten by Harlan in the final.