MOUNT VERNON - Cornell knew that any chance for success against unbeaten Lake Forest (Ill.) would begin and end with stopping the Foresters' star tailback, Joey Valdivia.
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In the course of a few weeks, West Delaware’s biggest concern has become its greatest strength.
“Before the season, I thought we would be too one-dimensional,” Hawks Coach Brett Mather said. “I thought we were too reliant on (Haley) Lyness. But as the season has worn on, our other kids have gotten better and better. Our middle hitters have progressed. It’s been huge.”
As a result, what figured to be a rebuilding year has been anything but.
Last year’s Class 4A state champion, West Delaware dropped in class but not in power. The 3A fourth-ranked Hawks have marched to a 30-2 record, including a 6-0 mark in the Wamac Conference East Division.
“Certainly, I’m pleased with what we’ve done,” Mather said. “There have been some bumps in the road, but we’re moving in a good direction.”
Yes, West Delaware can be classified as a perennial power. But this has to be considered a surprise, with four starters graduated from last year’s title team, including Carlee Ketchum, the 2015 state player of the year.
Mather replaced Ketchum with freshman Macey Kleitsch, and the Hawks’ fast-paced attack lives on.
“Macey was one of those unproven kids who has really responded,” Mather said. “She has progressed really well and does a beautiful job running the offense.”
A 5-foot-7 senior, Lyness gets the most swings of the attackers (she averages 3.36 kills per set), but returners like sophomore Claire Demmer (2.47 kills/set, .408 kill efficiency) and junior Lauren Collier (1.53 kills/set) have stepped forward and expanded their roles.
“Right now, I’d say our balance is our biggest strength,” Mather said.
The addition of West Delaware (down from 4A) and Dike-New Hartford (up from 2A) has further stacked an already strong 3A field that includes Union, Mount Vernon and top-ranked Carroll Kuemper.
“There’s a whole new group of teams that we weren’t used to seeing in the postseason,” Mather said. “Holy cow, it’s great just in our area. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.”
WESTSIDE SMALLER, BUT NOT WEAKER
Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Westside Invitational tournament has been condensed to a 16-team, one-site event, but the quality of the field has not been compromised for Saturday’s event.
Eleven of those teams are listed in this week’s rankings, including the second-rated teams in Class 5A (Ankeny Centennial), 4A (Marion) and 3A (Dike-New Hartford).
Pool assignments are as follows:
Pool A — Ankeny Centennial, Iowa City West, West Liberty, Cedar Rapids Washington.
Pool B — Dike-New Hartford, Linn-Mar, Tripoli, Des Moines Roosevelt.
Pool C — Marion, Dubuque Hempstead, West Des Moines Dowling, Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
Pool D — West Delaware, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Mount Vernon, Grundy Center.
Pool play begins at 8:30 a.m., with bracket action starting at 2:30 p.m. The top two teams from each pool move into the championship bracket.
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