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MARION — As the prep volleyball season nears the midway point, Cedar Rapids Xavier identified a vital ingredient if the Saints are to retain their No. 1 ranking in Class 4A.
Now is the time to turn up the defense.
The top-ranked Saints surrendered just one game in five matches and captured the Marion Invitational volleyball championship Saturday at Marion High School.
“I think this was a good measuring stick for us to remember that we have to continue to get better and grow every single day,” second-year Xavier Coach Austin Filer said. “This year, we ran into some tough teams right off the bat and we haven’t felt victory as much this year. Even though we’re No. 1 in the state, we haven’t felt that and I think this is really big one for us to learn how to be a champion.”
Xavier (16-3) received a couple of good defensive tests from host Marion, a versatile and aggressive offensive unit that pushed the Saints to three games in pool play, then faced off again for the invite championship.
Senior Ellie McDermott tallied 11 kills, while Charlotte Richards added eight as Xavier prevailed, 25-19, 25-20.
“They really pushed us, made us get better,” Filer said. “They forced us to play a level of defense that we haven’t played in a long time. We have the hitters, we just don’t always have that type of mentality and they made us better today.”
Xavier did not yield more than 13 points in pool-play victories over Durant and Maquoketa, then ousted 2A No. 13 Iowa City Regina in the tournament semifinal, 25-20, 25-11.
“We definitely worked on our defense today,” said junior Olivia Richards, who posted five kills, two digs and two blocks in the championship. “We had relentless defense. We worked hard to get the defensive balls up. That was our No. 1 priority.”
After early-season losses to 5A No. 3 Jefferson and 2A No. 1 Dike-New Hartford, the Saints have won 13 of 14 matches with 11 sweeps.
“I think we’re peaking at a good time,” said senior setter Rachel Sodawasser, who distributed 11 assists and added a pair of digs. “We definitely started off rough, but I think we’re ready to go.”
Marion (11-7) reached the championship match with a semifinal victory over previously-undefeated Grundy Center, the third-ranked team in 2A.
Marion senior Andrea Landyut posted nine kills in the 25-20, 25-22 semifinal triumph.
“Overall, I thought we made strides today,” Marion Coach Roxanne Paulsen said. “We made growth and improvement. … We’ve been kind of working through the rotation in the lineup and been competing with teams, but we haven’t turned that corner. I thought the Grundy Center (match) kind of gave us a little bit of confidence.”
Marion visits Benton Community on Tuesday, while Xavier resumes Mississippi Valley Conference play at eighth-ranked Iowa City West.
MARION VOLLEYBALL INVITATIONAL
At Marion High School
Grundy Center 2, Union 0 (21-19, 24-22)
Regina 2, Benton 1 (14-21, 21-12, 15-12)
Grundy Center 2, Benton 0 (21-19, 21-12)
Regina 2, Union 1 (16-21, 21-18, 15-11)
Grundy Center 2, Regina 0 (21-9, 21-19)
Union 2, Benton 0 (21-7, 21-12)
Xavier 2, Maquoketa 0 (21-12, 21-10)
Marion 2, Durant 0 (21-7, 21-14)
Xavier 2, Durant 0 (21-13, 21-10)
Marion 2, Maquoketa 0 (21-13, 21-7)
Xavier 2, Marion 1 (25-23, 16-21, 15-13)
Durant 2, Maquoketa 0 (21-12, 21-14)
Union 2, Maquoketa 0 (25-5, 25-20)
Durant 2, Benton 1 (25-19, 23-25, 16-14)
Union 2-0 (25-19, 25-16)
Xavier 2, Regina 0 (25-20, 25-10)
Marion 2, Xavier 0 (25-20, 25-22)
Xavier 2, Marion 0 (25-19, 25-20)
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