116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WEST BRANCH - The River Valley Conference showdown between 2A eighth-ranked West Branch and 3A seventh-ranked West Liberty looked like a five-set match from the get-go. With a standing-room-only ear-splitting crowd on Senior Night and a television audience, the Bears prevailed in five sets 23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 22-25 and 15-7.
Both teams were coming off a weekend tournament in which long winning streaks ended with losses to MAC power Pleasant Valley. But both were ready for this annual match that has in recent years determined the conference crown.
'They were two real good teams playing each other,” West Liberty coach Ruben Galvan said. 'There were some momentum switches there. I felt like in the second game we weren't really ready for that game. We were too high from the first game, and we never settled down.”
In the fifth set the Bears jumped out to a 3-1 lead and extended it to 6-2. The Comets committed three hitting errors during that stretch to go with two kills from West Branch's Bailey Lukavsky and one from Madison Russell.
'I think we had momentum from the fourth game,” Lukavsky said. 'We came back from a very large deficit, and then our serves were really on and we were closing out our blocks with our middles really well. Things were just clicking for us.”
The teams traded points for awhile, but the Bears ran off the final five with Haley Poula getting a kill and an ace, and Russell a kill and block.
'I think they knew that they've worked hard enough, and we came out aggressive,” West Branch Coach Josh Lukavsky said. 'I think sometimes we got a little passive (earlier), whether it was our passing or our attacking.”
The Bears (21-3) are bigger at the net than the Comets (24-1), but they made more hitting errors than usual, and that helped the Comets stay with them.
'In that fourth game, we probably had a big negative in that fourth game. I think we tried to do too much. We'd take big swings and then miss those shots down the line,” Coach Lukavsky said.
'West Liberty is a very good team so it's hard to be spot on,” Bailey Lukavsky said.
Poula, a junior who is a big force at the net, will probably have nightmares of West Liberty senior libero Molly Kelly, an Iowa commitment, diving and saving blast after blast.
'We wanted to keep it away from her,” Coach Lukavsky said.
'Our defense has carried us,” Galvan said. 'Our back row has been phenomenal, and when they're on we're a very good team. And our hitters did a nice job of hitting around their blocks.”