CEDAR RAPIDS – The Dike-New Hartford volleyball team is back on familiar ground.
After one year of competing as a Class 3A school that ended with the program’s 12th state championship, the Wolverines have returned to wreak havoc on the Class 2A bracket.
Junior middle hitter Amber Rickert posted a match-high 17 kills as the top-ranked Wolverines made quick work of upstart Wapsie Valley, 25-12, 25-9, 25-9, in a 2A state quarterfinal Wednesday at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“There are so many quality teams in the state of Iowa that it doesn’t matter the class,” Dike-New Hartford Coach Diane Harms said. “You just compete against whoever you are across the net from.”
Dike-New Hartford (48-3) – winners of 19 matches in a row – will play a 2A semifinal Thursday at 4 p.m. against No. 4 Council Bluffs St. Albert (28-3).
The Saintes will be hard pressed to get so much as a game off the Wolverines, who have swept 10-straight opponents and their only losses this season are to Cedar Falls (twice) and Linn-Mar, a pair of 5A state semifinalists.
Only Western Christian (15) and Dubuque Wahlert (18) have more state titles.
“To try to block everything out and focus and do what we want to do on the court,” Harms said of the position of prohibitive favorite. “They’ve done a great job of that all season. The leadership of our seniors, they’ve done a great job of leading by example and talking to and helping our younger players along.”
Three different Wolverines posted double-digit kill numbers. Sophomore outside hitter Morgan Weber tallied 11 with 10 digs, while UNI recruit Baylee Petersen added 10 kills and 11 digs.
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“I do think being more balanced, not being able to just focus on one hitter is very important for us,” Harms said. “Amber, tonight, did a very nice job in the middle. It was working for us. Other nights we have other people step up, but tonight she really came through for us in the middle.”
Rickert credits a competitive practice atmosphere for the Wolverines’ acute ability to stay sharp and not lose focus in the face of high expectations.
“We treat practice like games,” Rickert said. “It really helps us stay focused.”
Senior setter Madison Hedges, who averages more than 10 assists per set this season, distributed 36 in the quarterfinal.
Six-foot-2 junior outside hitter Mikenna Joerger led Wapsie Valley (21-16) with five kills.
The Warriors – who upset fifth-ranked Lake Mills just to get the state – appear to be ahead of schedule with just three seniors on the roster.
“It’s all about that experience because this atmosphere down here, it makes you shake,” first-year Wapsie Valley Coach Heather Robinson said. “It will. It’s nerve-wracking. But just to know that you can get out there and just play the game, that’s what it is.”
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