Prep Volleyball

Mount Vernon isn't resting on last year's state volleyball championship run

Veteran Mustangs are 'going after another one'

Mount Vernon players pile onto the floor as they celebrate their Class 3A state championship last season. The majority o
Mount Vernon players pile onto the floor as they celebrate their Class 3A state championship last season. The majority of the Mustangs’ roster returns in pursuit of a repeat. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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MOUNT VERNON — Call them “reigning” Class 3A state champions.

Not “defending.”

“Our narrative is that we’re not defending anything,” Mount Vernon volleyball coach Maggie Willems said. “We are pursuing another state title, and I anticipate a great challenge.”

The Mustangs waded through a memorable postseason journey last season. They prevailed in four consecutive five-set matches (over Jesup and New Hampton in regionals, West Liberty in the state quarterfinals and Union Community in the semis), then swept Carroll Kuemper in a brilliant championship-match performance.

That championship is in the bank. It can’t be taken away. Thus, what’s to defend?

“We’re not relying on last year. We’re a different team, and it’s a different season,” libero Jorie Randall said. “We want to achieve goals we’ve never achieved before.

“We’re playing even harder. We’re a closer team, and there’s more leadership.”

With the exception of one critical position (setter), the Mustangs are intact for a potential title repeat.

Six starters are back, including 2019 3A all-staters Lauren Schrock (first team) and Randall (second).

“This is the most talented, deepest group of kids I’ve ever had,” said Willems, who is beginning her 10th season as head coach and owns a 252-106 record. “The team culture and chemistry are off to a good start.”

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A University of Iowa commit, the 6-foot-1 Schrock (4.11 kills per set, .324 kill efficiency) headlines a deep crew of attackers.

“All of our hitters can attack,” Natalie Welch said. “Teams can’t just camp on one hitter.”

Camryn Ellison added 2.29 kills per set last season, Welch 2.05, Madi Cranston 1.56.

“Welch and Cranston have made jumps and will be significantly better,” Willems said. “You won’t be able to overlook Sara Rhomberg.

“We will not have a rotation in which we give our opponent a breather defensively. We’re not going to give teams breathing room.”

Randall (4.27 digs per set) anchors the back row. So the only real question mark is this: Who’s going to run the show at setter?

One logical candidate would be Sydney Dennis, another Iowa commit who transferred from North Cedar (she was a setter there). But here’s the rub:

“Sydney really can play just about anywhere,” Willems said. “She’s comfortable in a libero and defensive position. She also sets and can swing. I’m not being coy, I just don’t know where we’ll put her.

“She’s not just a good player, she’s an elite player.”

Though Dennis’ arrival probably will cut into the playing time of one or more veterans, it sounds as if she’s been welcomed warmly.

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“She’s going to be a positive addition,” Randall said. “Wherever Coach puts her, it’s going to be positive reinforcement. She’s going to push us to be better.”

Despite the level of talent returning, another state championship is anything but a gimme. Class 3A is even deeper than last year with the promotion of Osage and Clarion-Goldfield-Dows from 2A, plus 2019 3A qualifiers Davenport Assumption, Union Community, Unity Christian and West Liberty.

“There are probably 12 teams that could take a stab at it,” Willems said.

The Mustangs begin their season Thursday with a quad at Tiffin. They’ll do so as defending 3A champions. Or reigning 3A champs, if you prefer.

“That attitude helps take the pressure off,” Welch said. “Yeah, we’re the defending champs, but we’re going after another one.”

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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