CEDAR RAPIDS - After placing fourth at the state wrestling meet last season, Cedar Rapids Kennedy had a few holes to fill.
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Tom Keating talked. Austin Filer listened.
And now, the Xavier Saints are roaring like never before on the volleyball court.
Fresh off a tournament title at the Warrior Invitational Saturday at Cedar Rapids Washington, the Saints are 9-0 and ranked No. 6 (and climbing) in the Class 4A rankings.
“Our biggest goal has been to get better every day,” Filer said. “Now we’re starting to get some attention, so it will be interesting to see how the girls will respond to having a little bit of a target on their backs.”
Super 10: Kennedy, Xavier move into top two
Xavier is coming off a 15-22 campaign in 2015, after which a coaching vacancy opened.
Keating, who had preceded his Xavier principalship with a long, legendary coaching career at Dubuque Wahlert, gave Filer a call.
“When he gives you a buzz and tells you about the opportunities that are available here, you have to listen to it,” said Filer, 31, who had served as an assistant coach at Mount Mercy University and worked with the Adrenaline Volleyball Academy program.
“I wanted something of my own, something to build from the ground up. So I decided, let’s go for it and take a leap.”
And now, the Saints are taking a leap of their own.
It started with a convincing four-set win over Iowa City High, a perennially strong program. Then came a sweep of Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
Four of the Saints’ six wins Saturday went three sets, including a championship-match victory over Linn-Mar.
Xavier took some lumps last season, and much of it was due to youth. Now, the Saints are a year older, a lot better.
Junior Charlotte Richards is the featured hitter; she averages 4.05 kills per set with a .373 kill efficiency. Junior Ellie McDermott is at 2.60 and .304. Senior Jess Callahan and junior Rachel Sodawasser share the setting duties, with senior Lexi Noonan leading the back row at 2.95 digs per set.
But the Saints’ strength, Filer said, is in its serving and serve reception.
“We want to knock the other team out of system. We want to serve tougher than our opponents, and we want to be controlled in all of our actions,” he said.
The Saints will play three matches Saturday at Eldridge.
Xavier is one of only three remaining area unbeatens.
Iowa City Regina is 6-0 after knocking off West Branch, last year’s River Valley Conference South Division champion, last week. Sarah Lehman is averaging 3.50 kills per set.
Lisbon has been sitting at 4-0 since Aug. 23, when the Lions won four matches at home. They’re back in action Thursday with a Tri-Rivers Conference cross-divisional match at Calamus-Wheatland.
EARLY STAT LEADERS
Jaedynn Evans, a sophomore from Mid-Prairie, ranks second in the state in kills at 5.79 per set. Kiley DeBerg of Hudson is the leader at 6.59.
Jaima Tonne of Jesup and Maggie Driscol of Union are 2-3 statewide in assists per set, at 10.83 and 10.54, respectively.
North Cedar’s Taylor Kress leads the area in digs at 7.24 per set. That rates sixth statewide.
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