116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MANCHESTER — Practice fast, play fast.
The West Delaware Hawks have earned a reputation of playing at a different pace than their volleyball peers. It began a quarter-century ago, when Brett Mather took the coaching reins.
It was evident, again, when the Hawks opened practice Monday morning at Seedorff Gymnasium.
Idle time was scarce. Drills were timed, and sharp. After each drill was complete, each player jogged to retrieve wayward volleyballs, put them in a cart, grab a quick drink. Then, onto the next thing.
Not surprisingly, the first hour was spent strictly on drills at net level or below. Some used two balls at once.
“We do so many overload-the-system drills,” said Mather, who has coached the Hawks to a 799-194 mark, including a state championship (2015) and six runner-up finishes (including last year).
“Of course we’re not going top use two or three balls at once during a match. But these drills get them to think, and think quick.”
If this program has a one-word identity, that’s it. Quick.
“The tempo we run, the serve-receive ... hardly anybody can keep up with our pace. We’re very quick, and it starts at practice,” setter Carlee Smith said. “That culture, the speed, that’s what makes us, us.”
Preparing for a match with the Hawks is like getting ready to play a single-wing team in football.
“There’s really no team like us, the way we play,” all-state libero Ella Koloc said. “It’s hard for others to catch up.”
West Delaware was 30-12 last season, reaching the Class 4A state final before falling to Cedar Rapids Xavier. The Hawks are down a class this year and carry a preseason No. 2 ranking in 3A by The Gazette.
The captain of the back row, Koloc is responsible for starting the tempo, and Smith’s job is to distribute the ball — quickly — to the Hawks’ hitters. Four of the top five kill counters return, led by Alivia Schulte and Allie Demmer.
There’s plenty to like.
“Defense is going to be pretty solid this year,” Mather said. “We’ve got a lot of ball control back. We still don’t have a lot of big bangers at the net, but we’re going to have good, smart swingers. Schulte has really improved. She has more shots in her game, more confidence.”
Each drill Monday had a purpose, and a time limit. Groups kept track of their performance, counting the number of successful reps they made. Fall short of expectations, and a few jumping jacks were the result.
“It’s always intense, and I love it,” Koloc said. “(Mather) can be hard on us sometimes, but that’s what makes us great players, and a great team.”
All of the veterans wore the same black T-shirt. Mather donned his customary visor, which he’ll wear to every practice and every match.
“This one has been around the block a while, maybe six years,” Mather said. “(Football coach Doug) Winkowitsch gave it to me. I had a volleyball one, but it got pretty dirty and dingy.
“My wife says I should get a license plate that says, ‘VISORGUY.’”
West Delaware is somewhat of a blue-collar program, and that’s meant completely as a compliment. This isn’t a place that annually attracts transfers or generates a high number of Division-I players.
The Hawks just win with homegrown kids who develop and learn to play disciplined, fast volleyball.
And this year should be more of the same.
“We can be something great,” Koloc said. “We had a good run last year, and we know what it’s like to play big matches. We’ve got to work hard to get where we want to be.”