116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After Marion defeated Benton Community at the Wamac Conference volleyball tournament Oct. 11, Benton setter Grace Embretson had a word with Wolves Coach Roxanne Paulsen.
Her message, according to Paulsen:
“See you again in a couple of weeks. We’re coming for you.”
This wasn’t blind, salty trash talk. Just a niece and her aunt.
So here we are. Those couple of weeks are past.
Fifth-ranked Marion (35-8) welcomes No. 14 Benton Community (25-14) in a Class 4A regional final. That’s plenty of a storyline alone.
Now add this: Paulsen and Benton Coach Mike Embretson are sister- and brother-in-law (Mike is married to Paulsen’s younger sister, Becki). Sophia Paulsen and Grace Embretson are cousins.
“Like my mom said, she’ll have a granddaughter in the state tournament,” Paulsen said. “Unfortunately, she won’t have two.”
The Benton-Marion blood battle is one of a dozen area 5A/4A/3A regional finals on a jam-packed Tuesday.
Five of them are in 5A. Top-ranked Iowa City Liberty (33-4) is a heavy favorite at home against Muscatine (15-17), and No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (24-10) welcomes No. 10 Johnston (26-11). Three area teams hit the road — 11th-rated Cedar Rapids Prairie (22-13) at No. 7 Ankeny Centennial (29-9), No. 13 Iowa City High (20-14) at No. 3 Ankeny (38-5) and No. 14 Iowa City West (16-16) at No. 2 Pleasant Valley (29-4).
Also in 4A, No. 1 Western Dubuque (30-3) takes a 23-match win streak into its home battle with No. 12 Decorah (28-6), and No. 4 Cedar Rapids Xavier (28-4) — the defending state champion — hosts Norwalk (23-17).
In 3A, No. 2 West Delaware (39-5) faces Vinton-Shellsburg (19-17) at Cedar Falls, No. 4 West Liberty (36-4) meets No. 10 West Burlington (30-3) at Mediapolis, No. 5 Mount Vernon (33-12) takes on No. 11 Eddyville EBF (31-4) at Williamsburg and No. 15 Independence (29-12) takes its shot at No. 1 Davenport Assumption (33-4) at Cedar Rapids Washington.
The West Delaware/Vinton-Shellsburg match is at 6 p.m.; the others are at 7.
Tuesday’s encounter will be the fourth this season between Marion and Benton. The Wolves won the first three.
Paulsen and Embretson have scouted opponents for each other, given each other advice. Now, Embretson said, “We’re scouting the daylights out of each other.”
While Paulsen has lifted Marion to an enviable level, regular state appearances and a championship in 2008, Benton is seeking its first state bid in school history. Embretson is fairly confident that this is the Bobcats’ first regional final.
“The kids have worked hard to get to this level,” he said. “This is going to be a great challenge, a battle. I’m expecting the gym to be packed.”
Both of the daughters will play a significant role in the outcome. Sophomore Sophia Paulsen averages nearly a kill per set and is fifth on the team in digs. A Benton senior, Grace Embretson is responsible for 2.18 kills and 7.37 assists per set.
One of them will be moving on to state. But only one.
“I’m not looking forward to playing them again,” Coach Paulsen said. “I wish we could both go on to state.”
Tuesday’s Class 5A regional finals
No. 11 Cedar Rapids Prairie (22-13) at No. 7 Ankeny Centennial (29-9), 7 p.m.
Centennial has been a state power from the start of its existence, reaching the state tournament seven times in eight years, a run that has included four titles, most recently in 2018. The Jaguars were quarterfinalists last year and returned six starters, led by Monica Mirembe (2.30 kills per set, .356 kill efficiency) and Morgan Den Beste (7.3 assists per set). Prairie is seeking its first state bid since 2008. The Hawks outlasted Waukee Northwest in a five-set regional semifinal, prevailing 15-13 in the fifth. Maggie Lueck (4.54 digs per set) is one of the top back-row players in the Metro, and — though just 5-foot-8 — Jacey Miller paces the attack at 2.60 kills per set.
No. 13 Iowa City High (20-14) at No. 3 Ankeny (38-5), 7 p.m.
City High pursues its first state-tournament berth since 2014, but has to travel to Central Iowa to face the defending state champion. Five starters return from Ankeny’s title team, led by senior outside hitter Ava Reynolds (3.92 kills per set. 350 kill efficiency). Hawkettes Coach Dave Whims has been at it 37 years and has won 1,077 matches and five state championships. That includes a 21-18, 21-14 victory over City High at the Bettendorf Invitational on Oct. 9. The Little Hawks had dropped three of four matches heading into the postseason, but rebounded with a four-set win over Southeast Polk. Sophomore Claire Enrst (3.60 kills per set, .260 efficiency) paces City’s attack.
No. 10 Johnston (26-11) at No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (24-10), 7 p.m.
Co-champion of the MVC Valley Division, Kennedy is in the midst of its winningest season since 2016, and the now the Cougars want to extend it to the state tournament for the first time since 2015. The Cougars swept Marshalltown in the regional semifinals, but are a little banged up, and Johnston will present a stiff challenge. Junior setter Mara Fluent runs the show for the Cougars, posting 7.83 assists per set. Top targets include Molly Joyner (3.26 kills per set), and Megan Feldmann (2.05). Like Kennedy, Johnston is six years removed from its last state tournament and is coming off a straight-set win (over Ames). And like the Cougars, the Dragons are balanced. Dasha Svitashev leads at 2.81 kills per set.
Muscatine (15-17) at No. 1 Iowa City Liberty (33-4), 7 p.m.
The 2020 big-school state runner-up, heavily favored Liberty brings a head of steam into the match. The Lightning have won 10 straight matches (all sweeps), 25 of their last 26. And this is still a fairly young squad. Recent UNI commit, junior Cassidy Hartman was an Elite all-state pick last year and averages 4.15 kills and 4.13 digs per set, and junior Shelby Kimm adds 2.75 per set. Sophomore Mariah Rollins and freshman Asta Hildebrand share setting duties. The Lightning were MVC Mississippi Division champions and swept their way through the championship bracket of the MVC tournament championship bracket. Muscatine defeated Cedar Rapids Jefferson in a four-set regional semifinal.
No. 14 Iowa City West (16-16) at No. 2 Pleasant Valley (29-4), 7 p.m.
This isn’t necessarily the mismatch that it appears at first glance. West handed Pleasant Valley one of its four losses, at the MVC-MAC Challenge on Aug. 26, a loss the Spartans avenged Sept. 25 at Iowa City Liberty. Pleasant Valley is the champion of the Mississippi Athletic Conference, while West earned a share of the MVC Valley Division title. West opened its postseason with a straight-set win over Bettendorf and it led by sophomore Melae Lacy (2.87 kills per set) in the front row and Katherine Kouba (4.77 digs per set) in the back. Evansville recruit Kora Ruff has accumulated more than 3,000 assists in a standout career as Pleasant Valley’s setter. The Spartans were 5A state semifinalists last year.
OTHER REGIONAL FINALS
No. 12 Sioux City East (28-10) at No. 5 West Des Moines Dowling (26-12), 7 p.m.
Council Bluffs Lincoln (17-24) at No. 6 Urbandale (32-8), 7 p.m.
Dubuque Senior (21-16) at No. 4 Cedar Falls (29-8), 8 p.m.
Tuesday’s Class 4A regional finals
Norwalk (23-17) at No. 4 Cedar Rapids Xavier (28-4), 7 p.m.
Reigning 4A state champion Xavier is heavily favored to get downtown for the sixth straight year. The Saints were co-champions of the MVC Valley Division, runners-up of the MVC tournament champion bracket. Xavier has reloaded nicely after graduation took a toll, and is reliant on middles Maya Karl (3.36 kills per set, .408 efficiency) and Anika Ivester (.387). Norwalk pulled a moderate surprise in the regional semifinals, winning at Winterset in four sets, its sixth win in the last seven matches. Abigail Brenizer averages 3.37 kills per set for the Warriors, who are seeking their first state-tournament berth in school history.
No. 14 Benton Community (25-14) at No. 5 Marion (35-8), 7 p.m.
It’s been another memorable season for Marion, which set the tone early with a 10-0 start and earned a share of the title in the rugged Wamac Conference East Division. The Wolves have a pair of versatile setter/hitters in junior Avery Van Hook and senior Elise Mehaffy, who have combined for nearly 1,000 assists this season and average 4.39 kills per set between them. Not only is Benton chasing its first state berth in school history, but Coach Mike Embretson believes this is the Bobcats’ first regional final ever. The Bobcats opened some eyes with a road sweep of No. 11 Clear Creek Amana in the regional semifinals and are led offensively by Alyssa Tegeler (3.82 kills per set, .311 efficiency), who had spent the first three years of her high school career at Belle Plaine.
No. 12 Decorah (28-6) at No. 1 Western Dubuque (30-3), 7 p.m.
Western Dubuque enters with a 23-match winning streak, and the veteran Bobcats have their eyes on a big finish. Madison Maahs went over the 2,000-assist plateau early in the season, and pilots a crew that is hitting .319 as a team. Meredith Bahl (4.42 kills per set, .348 kill efficiency) and Maddie Harris (3.58, .268) take the majority of the swings for the Bobcats, who were 4A state runners-up in 2019 and semifinalists in 2020. Decorah was the Northeast Iowa Conference runner-up (to Waverly-Shell Rock) and has a major hitting threat in junior Amelia Dugger (2.97 kills per set, .396 efficiency). The Vikings are chasing their first state appearance.
OTHER REGIONAL FINALS
Sioux City Heelan (19-16) at Lewis Central (19-15), 7 p.m.
No. 9 North Polk (26-10) at No. 8 Bondurant-Farrar (31-7), 7 p.m.
No. 7 Pella (29-9) at No. 6 Oskaloosa (30-4), 7 p.m.
No. 15 Humboldt (29-6) at No. 3 Waverly-Shell Rock (41-7), 7 p.m.
DeWitt Central (17-12) at No. 2 North Scott (29-4), 7 p.m.
Tuesday’s Class 3A regional finals
No. 5 Mount Vernon (33-12) vs. No. 11 Eddyville EBF (33-12), 7 p.m. at Williamsburg
A victory Tuesday would send Mount Vernon to the state tournament for the 13th time in the last 15 years. The Mustangs are in the midst of their best stretch of the season; they have won seven straight matches that includes a Wamac Conference tournament title. Three freshmen play a key role, including Chloe Meester, who leads the team in kills (3.58 per set) and owns a .312 efficiency. Junior Madeleine Miller has taken over the setter role and run with it; she distributes 9.20 assists per set and is third on the team in kills. EBF won its first 12 matches of the season and captured the South Central Conference championship. Like Meester, the Rockets’ Molly Shafer is a dynamite freshman. Her 5.82 kills per set rank second in the state in all classes, and she hits .399.
No. 4 West Liberty (36-4) vs. No. 10 West Burlington (30-3), 7 p.m. at Mediapolis
Sometime within the next two weeks, the final chapter will be written on the brilliant volleyball career of Macy Daufeldt. The Drake University recruit is third in the state in kills per set (5.79) and owns a .485 kill efficiency. Junior setter Brooklyn Buysse averages 9.43 assists per set; junior libero Monica Morales 6.20 digs per set. The Comets’ four losses all have come against elite competition (Wilton twice, Western Dubuque and Dike-New Hartford). West Burlington is seeking its first state trip. The Falcons had to go four sets with Central Lee in the first round, then swept Davis County in the semifinals. Junior Sophia Armstrong posts 4.37 kills with a .434 efficiency.
No. 15 Independence (29-12) vs. No. 1 Davenport Assumption (33-4), 7 p.m. at Cedar Rapids Washington
Independence will try to disrupt an Assumption outfit that has won 22 of its last 23 matches and finished second in the 5A-dominant Mississippi Athletic Conference. The Knights are favored to advance to state for the fourth straight year; they were 3A semifinalists in 2020 and welcome back 6-foot-1 junior Ava Schubert (4.24 kills per set). Independence made back-to-back state trips in 2017 and 2018. Both of the Mustangs’ regional wins — against Center Point-Urbana and Monticello — came in four sets. Alexis Hearn is a strong six-rotation player who averages 3.15 kills and 3.43 digs per set. Elle Greiner posts 9.64 assists per set.
No. 2 West Delaware (39-5) vs. Vinton-Shellsburg (19-17), 6 p.m. at Cedar Falls
Last year’s Class 4A state runner-up, West Delaware is down a class and has championship aspirations. The Hawks are after their fourth consecutive state berth. This is the fourth meeting this season between the Wamac Conference cross-divisional rivals, and the Hawks won the first three, all by 2-0 verdicts. Junior Alivia Schulte is a jumping jack at outside hitter, averaging 3.49 kills per set, Carlee Smith has surpassed 1,000 assists this season and Ella Koloc (4.38 digs per set) is a back-row whiz. Coach Brett Mather went over the 900-win plateau earlier this fall. Vinton-Shellsburg has two impressive postseason wins, over Union in four sets and New Hampton in three. Brynn Patterson leads the team at 2.37 kills per set. An upset would send V-S to state for the first time since 1999.
OTHER REGIONAL FINALS
No. 6 Sergeant Bluff-Luton (29-6) vs. No. 9 Sioux Center (25-8), 7 p.m. at Le Mars
No. 3 Sheldon (26-5) vs. Forest City (19-12), 7 p.m. at Estherville
No. 7 Unity Christian (27-4) vs. Clarion CGD (19-15), 7 p.m. at Storm Lake
No. 8 Des Moines Christian (35-6) vs. Nevada (21-21), 7 p.m. at Grimes