INDEPENDENCE — Independence has its opportunity to take another step.
One year after being swept out of the first round at the volleyball state tournament, the fifth-ranked Mustangs earned a state bid for the second year in a row with a 25-9, 25-17, 25-18 sweep of Marion on Monday night in a Class 4A regional final.
“I’m so excited to go back,” said senior Madison Larson, who posted a game-high 18 kills. “Ever since that season ended last year, I’ve been ready.”
Independence (34-6) is the fifth seed and will play two-time defending state champion Dubuque Wahlert (23-12) at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“Last year we were kind of nervous because we had never been there before,” Independence senior setter Holly Cooksley said. “I think this year it’s going to be a lot better because we’ve been there, we’ve played there.”
Larson — a 6-foot-1 outside hitter and first team all-state selection last season — leads a quicker, more-experienced offense this time around. The Division-II Winona State (Minn.) commit ranks fourth in 4A with 442 kills, which is the product of exceptional chemistry with Cooksley, who is third in the state across all classes with 1,054 assists.
“We work together a lot in practice,” said Cooksley, who led all players with 37 assists. “We’ve been working on a quicker set. That just gets her open for swings.”
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Independence did not trail in any of the three games against Marion. The Mustangs scored the final 10 points of Game 1, then closed the second game with a 10-4 surge. In the clincher, Independence responded to a slim two-point advantage at 19-17 with six of the final seven points.
“They are a very focused, determined group,” said Independence Coach Joe Schmitz, who is taking his third Mustang team (2017, 2013) to the state tournament. “I felt confident that they were going to come out here and play their best. Marion is a tough matchup. They are big in the middle, but we were able to get the ball outside a lot and our kids just performed very well.”
Independence senior libero Sydney Hearn added 20 digs to her season total, which now stands at 532 (third in 4A).
Six-foot-2 junior middle hitter Delaney Rice led Marion (20-20) with nine kills. Freshman setter Elise Mehaffey tallied 25 assists for the Indians, while junior outside hitter Kayba Laube notched 11 digs.
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