Prep Volleyball

Mount Vernon scrambles, adjusts and returns to 3A state volleyball final

With Natalie Welch quarantined, Maggie Willems earns 'the most rewarding win of my coaching career'

CEDAR RAPIDS — She had about 21 hours to adjust, to move her pieces around the proverbial chessboard and come up with a new rotation.

Maggie Willems didn’t do it alone.

“We were sitting at breakfast — what are we going to do to win this match? — and (assistant coach) Robin (Brand) came up with this plan,” Willems said.

It involved something that seemed drastic, the implementation of a setter who had played all of three sets all season. And it worked beautifully.

With Natalie Welch at home in quarantine, third-ranked Mount Vernon motored past No. 2 Clarion CGD, 25-16, 25-22, 25-13, in a Class 3A semifinal at the state volleyball tournament Wednesday afternoon at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.

“Hands down, the most rewarding win of my coaching career,” said Willems, who has 283 of them in 10 seasons.

Last year’s 3A state champion, the Mustangs (32-6) are one win away from a title repeat. They’ll face No. 1 Osage (33-2) for the crown at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Welch, who does not have COVID-19, ranks third on the team in kills and near the top in leadership. Everybody else needed to step up a bit, and everybody else obliged.

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“I felt super sad for Natalie. We had to play for for her,” Camryn Ellyson said. “We knew she was watching us from home, wanting us to succeed.”

Lauren Schrock paced the Mustangs with 14 kills. If you know this team, you’ve heard of her.

You may not be as familiar with Madeleine Miller.

A 5-foot-10 sophomore, Miller was moved into the setting position — and Sydney Dennis pushed to the outside as a hitter, in some rotations.

“I was excited to play. The team was here for me,” said Miller, who posted four kills and seven assists.

Dennis’ line consisted of four kills, 23 assists and 12 digs.

“Serve receive ... I haven’t gotten to do that this season,” she said. “I’d never gotten to play here before this year. The crowd, the cameras ... I just love it.”

If you’re into rankings, Mount Vernon was a slight underdog. But this is the Mustangs’ time of the year, and they were comfortable and confident.

Leading 19-16 in the opener, the Mustangs scored the final six points, including back-to-back aces by Sara Rhomberg.

Down 13-8 in Game 2, Mount Vernon gradually worked its way back into it and took a 22-20 lead on back-to-back Dennis kills. Then, at 22-22, the Mustangs won it on two Ellyson kills and a block by Schrock.

There was no drama in the finale after an eight-point run put the Mustangs in control, 9-1.

CGD (28-3) has a gem in hitter Morgan Middleton (18 kills), but the Mustangs were able to get a hand on her attacks frequently. They finished with nine blocks.

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“(Assistant) Dolfi (Kalm) is really into blocking,” Ellyson said. “He’s constantly talking, maybe try this, maybe try that.”

Mount Vernon will be making its ninth finals appearance; it is 4-4 in its first eight.

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

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