CEDAR RAPIDS — Goodbye, drama. Hello, dominance.
After four straight matches of five-set spine-tinglers, seventh-ranked Mount Vernon played brilliant volleyball from first serve until last, and destroyed No. 2 Carroll Kuemper, 25-11, 25-18, 25-14, in the Class 3A state championship match Friday afternoon at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“The kids’ focus and execution was unbelievable,” said Mustangs Coach Maggie Willems, who earned her first title as a head coach (Shirley Ryan won three at Mount Vernon, in 1984, 2009, 2010).
“They did everything we asked of them, and they did it to perfection.”
Mount Vernon finished a 36-10 season with 19 wins in its final 20 matches.
“I really didn’t think of this season finishing any other way than it did,” said junior hitter Lauren Schrock, who transferred from Solon after last season, and ended up being the last piece — the centerpiece — of a championship puzzle. “We had some ups and downs this season, but this is huge, just huge.”
Mount Vernon had to sweat out successive five-setters against Jesup, New Hampton, West Liberty and Union Community to get to this stage. But when the lights were at their brightest, so were the Mustangs. They blistered the defending-champion Knights (37-5) with runs of seven and eight points in the opening set, then gained some breathing room late in Game 2 with a five-point run.
There was a fork in the road early in the third set. Back-row whiz Lauren Ryan went out with a knee injury at 4-4, and was replaced by Dani Pitts.
“We came together and said we’re going to do it for Lauren,” Mustangs setter Summer Brand said. “We had a ton of confidence in Dani.”
Schrock said, “I knew Dani would be fine. She brings so much energy.”
It took a few points for the Mustangs to regroup. Kuemper took an 8-5 lead and seemed to be asserting itself.
And then ...
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Schrock kill. Brand ace. Schrock kill. Natalie Welch block. Mount Vernon led, 9-8. Kuemper did not call timeout.
The onslaught continued. A couple of Kuemper attack errors sandwiched a Brand ace. Still no timeout at 12-8.
Sara Rhomberg block. Welch kill. Rhomberg kill. Brand ace. Kuemper error.
Still no timeout. Just a 12-0 run for a 17-8 Mount Vernon lead.
“We just got down on ourselves,” said Kuemper’s Kara Peter, who had nine kills and was named all-tournament captain. “We were working against ourselves. It wasn’t working for us.”
Meanwhile, everything clicked for the Mustangs.
“In terms of focus and execution, it’s the best of any team of mine, ever, in a high-level match,” Willems said.
Schrock (14 kills), Brand (33 assists) and libero Jorie Randall (14 digs) represented Mount Vernon on the all-tournament team. Kuemper’s Anna Niehaus, Red Oak’s Chloe Johnson, and Union Community’s Jasmyn Bush rounded out the squad.
Mount Vernon started the season ranked No. 1 back in August, was slow out of the gate, then hit its stride. The Mustangs did it with a dynamite junior class.
“There’s no promise of this opportunity ever coming again,” Willems said. “I told them, ‘This is it, go for it.’”
And they got it.
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