Prep Volleyball

Western Christian earns its 20th straight state volleyball semifinal berth

No. 1 Wolfpack turn it on the final 2 sets, handle South Hardin

CEDAR RAPIDS — Before it could think about 20, Western Christian had to get away from zero.

Or, to be statistically correct, .000.

“You can’t hit .000 here and win,” Western Coach Tammi Veerbeek said. “Error, error, error. I told the team after the second set, ‘We’re the better team, but if we’re not going to play like it, we’re going to be done.’”

Instead, the top-ranked Wolfpack reversed course and handled tournament-newcomer South Hardin in four sets (25-19, 25-27, 25-12, 25-10) in a Class 2A quarterfinal at the state volleyball tournament Tuesday afternoon at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.

“At the beginning, we were a little nervous,” said Western sophomore Abby Verburg, who smashed a match-high 16 kills. “Once we settled in, we played well.”

And when the Wolfpack play well, the result is usually predictable.

Western (33-9) advanced to the semifinals for the 20th consecutive year. Let that sink in. Twenty years in a row, the Wolfpack are among the last four teams standing.

“A lot of it is tradition,” Veerbeek said. “There are a lot of girls who dream of this moment, playing on this court.

“You have to have athletes that are willing to bust their butts. I’m not the one playing the game for them, and it’s not as if they come to me as juniors and seniors without ever playing before.”

Western will face No. 6 Denver (33-5) in a semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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The victory was the 1,005th of Veerbeek’s career. The last time her team fell short of Cedar Rapids was 2000.

“A five-setter to Unity Christian in the regional final,” she said. “They went on to win the state title.”

In the present 20-year run, Western has played in 18 state finals, winning 12 championships. This version of the Wolfpack is young, and played young for two sets before finding its groove.

“I know I have to be more vocal now this year,” senior libero Madison Vis said. “We had to get through our nerves and settle in.”

Western hit .043 in the first two sets, .375 in the next two.

Another sophomores, Stella Winterfeld added 13 kills. Jaylin Van Dyken dished out 44 assists. And Vis served six aces to go with 18 digs.

“I like serving,” Vis said. “It’s fun. It’s just you and the ball.”

Ellie Anderson had nine kills for South Hardin (21-15).

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

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