INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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There’s a new volleyball power growing in the River Valley Conference.
Say hello to the Tipton Tigers, and get acquainted. They may be around awhile.
Tipton rode into sole possession of first place in the RVC South Division on Tuesday, downing Iowa City Regina in four sets.
“The biggest thing, we got them out of system pretty well,” Tipton Coach Amy Calonder said. “(Regina’s Sarah) Lehman is a great hitter. But we knew where their strength was, and we worked to take them out of their offense.”
As a result, the Tigers (18-5 overall, 4-1 RVC South) can clinch no worse than a title share if they beat West Branch at home next Thursday.
West Liberty (10-6, 3-1) also is in contention. The Comets still have divisional matches left against Regina and Durant, both on the road, next week. If both the Tigers and the Comets stumble, Wilton (19-4, 3-2) and/or Regina (15-10, 3-2) can return to the title picture.
“To win this division, that would be pretty awesome,” Calonder said. “I’m excited with where we’re sitting. I don’t want to jinx anything before it happens. But we have a mission, and we know what we want.”
Last year, the RVC South produced the 3A state runner-up (West Liberty) and a 2A state semifinalist (West Branch). Both of those teams underwent significant graduation losses, opening the door for the rest of the field.
The Tigers have taken the opportunity and ran with it. They beat West Liberty in their division opener, then suffered a loss to Wilton. They’ve won three straight league matches since, including the showdown with Regina.
It’s a small program — just 19 players in grades 9-12 — and it’s a young one. The top four hitters are a freshman (Sommer Daniel averages 3.44 kills per set with a .322 kill efficiency) and three sophomores (Blake Ehler, Jamie Kofron and Amanda Smith).
Smith and Daniel share the setting duties.
“Between our varsity and JV teams, everybody plays,” Calonder said. “These 19 kids, they’re the foundation of Tipton volleyball. This is where it starts.
“We’ve kind of been riding the quiet train. We feel like we’re the underdogs, and we’re OK with that. We’ll keep rolling with that.”
FRIDAY IS PAIRINGS DAY
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union will release regional pairings for all classes Friday.
The postseason begins Oct. 18 in Class 1A and Class 2A, Oct. 19 in 3A, 4A and 5A. Regional finals are Oct. 31 in the largest three classes, Nov. 1 in the smallest two.
The state tournament is Nov. 8-11 at the U.S. Cellular Center.
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