Prep Volleyball

Mount Vernon's Ryan family volleyball dynasty is about to pause, but not necessarily end

It started in Mount Vernon in 1972, and it will pause sometime this week in Cedar Rapids

Mount Vernon's Lauren Ryan (left) and Madi Cranston (2) go for the ball during a match against Cedar Rapids Xavier on Se
Mount Vernon’s Lauren Ryan (left) and Madi Cranston (2) go for the ball during a match against Cedar Rapids Xavier on Sept. 26. Ryan is the fourth Ryan girl to play at Mount Vernon. Her grandmother, Shirley Ryan, won three state titles with the Mustangs as the head coach. (Cliff Jette/Freelance for The Gazette)
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MOUNT VERNON — You could say that the Ryan household is a glue factory.

It is here that Dave and Heidi Ryan raised nine children, including four girls — Emily, Sarah, Libby and Lauren.

All of the girls were multisport athletes for the local high school. All played volleyball.

None were high-flying attackers and blockers. Instead, two have been setters, one a libero, one a back-row anchor.

All have been leaders. The kind of players you can’t win without.

Glue players.

“Yeah, that’s accurate,” said Mount Vernon Coach Maggie Willems, who coached all four of the sisters, Emily and Sarah as an assistant, Libby and Lauren as the head coach after Shirley Ryan — the girls’ grandmother — retired in 2010.

“They all have been our glue, somebody who will ask, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’”

The Ryan volleyball dynasty began in Mount Vernon in 1972, when Shirley Ryan began the program. It will pause, but not necessarily end, this week.

Lauren is a senior back-row player for the Mustangs (30-6), who will try to repeat as Class 3A champions. They face Union Community (31-9) in a first-round match at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Lauren said. “I remember a lot of Saturday tournaments, a lot of days going to Grandma’s practice and sitting on the ball carts.”

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“Emily would be practicing, I’d be running around, shagging balls, and the girls called me Pinky because I always wore pink.”

These days, the roles are reversed. Lauren is on the court, with Shirley and Emily in the bleachers.

“I get way too involved in the stands,” said Shirley, now 74. “Every touch, every play, I’m very active. I should do a better job keeping quiet. They don’t need to hear my mouth in the stands.”

Willems doesn’t necessarily agree.

“I love hearing her voice,” she said. “It’s almost comforting to me. But you can tell when she’s getting annoyed, and when it happens, I giggle to myself a little bit.”

Shirley coached seven state-tournament teams, winning with her first one (1984) and her last two (2009 and 2010).

Her final record was 829-331-114, including a 56-match win streak to conclude her career. However, an upset loss to Marion in the 2008 3A state final to Marion, when Emily was the senior setter, still grates at her.

“That was my toughest loss ever,” she said. “They had a fabulous group of seniors who just weren’t going to be defeated, and most of our core group was sophomores then.”

Emily went on to play at Coe College, and currently serves as the eighth-grade coach at Mount Vernon Middle School.

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“She was, and is, a poster child for being an extrovert,” Willems said. “She’s a naturally inclusive person.”

Upon Emily’s graduation, Sarah became the setter and distributed the ball to a stable of big hitters on the 2009 and 2010 title teams.

“Sarah probably got the most accolades; she won state championships in three different sports (also basketball and track),” Shirley said. “She was in the right place at the right time, because we had a lot of big girls that were getting Division-I scholarships.”

The 2017 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year, Libby was a state-tournament regular at libero.

“She was the original Honey Badger,” Willems said. “Sometimes she had to tone down her competitiveness a little.”

“Libby had a stubborn streak,” Shirley said. “I remember, she’d come over and do pullups on the side of my silverware drawer. But she has the ability to analyze a game that’s second to none. She can pick apart what’s going on in football games.”

And that brings us to Lauren.

“As a friend, a classmate and a teammate, she genuinely puts the needs of other above herself,” Willems said. “Our team has a lot of diverse personalities, and she genuinely likes each of them.

“That role is immeasurable.”

The feeling is mutual, schoolwide. Lauren was the homecoming queen. She’s looking into a nursing career, and might play softball in college.

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Lauren suffered a dislocated kneecap in the championship match against Carroll Kuemper last year, watching from the bench as her teammates polished off a sweep. She wears a sleeve and a brace on her right knee now.

That sweep was a departure from the Mustangs’ previous four matches, all of which they won in five sets.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lauren said. “All of those close matches ... we were relaxed no matter what.”

The Mustangs return to state Tuesday, and in Lauren Ryan, they’ll bring their glue. And when they leave, whether in victory or defeat, an era will come to a close.

But maybe not for good.

Shirley has five great-grandchildren, including 2-year-old Hayden, who lives in Mount Vernon.

“She’s a little mini-me to Libby,” Shirley said. “At the matches, she’s always jumping off the bleachers. I think she’ll be an athlete.”

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

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