WEBSTER CITY - On one side of the net is David - the underdog of underdogs that is trying to climb to the top of the mountain in the North Central Conference. And on the other side of the net is Goliath - the ruler of all things volleyball in the NCC.
It looks like a mismatch. It may even feel like a mismatch. But if the Webster City volleyball team has proven anything this season it's that the past has nothing to do with the present.
Enjoying its best season in recent memory, 11th-ranked (Class 3A) Webster City will find out exactly how it measures up to the conference standard-bearer tonight when it welcomes No. 10 Algona to Jefferson Gymnasium for a league battle at 7:15 p.m.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Webster City senior Emily Sletten smacks the ball around the block of the Iowa Falls-Alden defense on Tuesday. Sletten will be in the lineup for the 11th-ranked Lynx tonight when they host No. 10 Algona at 7:15 p.m.
The Lynx (19-3, 5-0 NCC) and Bulldogs (21-4, 5-0 NCC) sit tied atop the conference standings with Clear Lake (9-4, 5-0 NCC) heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
There's no doubt that Algona is the team to beat. The Bulldogs have enjoyed a run of five consecutive conference championships, piling up a staggering 49-1 record in league play since the start of the 2005 season under the direction of head coach Shelly TerHark. They're 65-3 against league opponents since 2002, and only once during that span have they failed to hoist the NCC hardware.
"They've got a solid program and they don't ever really have to rebuild year after year because there's a precedent there at Algona of what is expected from the volleyball program," WCHS head coach Jessica Kastler said. "You strive to be able to compete with and play against them and see how you measure up against the caliber of team that they put on the floor."
Algona is what Webster City hopes to become, and a good step towards achieving that goal would be to win in front of the home fans tonight.
Is it possible? Kastler says if her team expects to win then it can happen.
"We've tried to get the girls to not only want to win, but to expect to win," she said. "If you're going into a game wanting to win, then you've already beat yourself and I think we've bridged that gap with the girls. These girls have played enough sports and enough volleyball that they know how to win. It's whether or not we can put all those pieces together on that night."
Webster City relies on a multi-pronged offensive attack with five girls - seniors Sawyer Gourley, Emily Sletten and Grace Nelson, and freshmen Kaylee Schnathorst and Morgan Gourley - that can pound the ball to the floor with authority. Sawyer Gourley owns a team-best 109 kills and a hitting efficiency of .325.
Senior setter Kari Peterson is Kastler's mouthpiece on the floor with 256 assists, and senior libero Jessica O'Connell is one of the premier defenders in the NCC with 110 digs.
Algona relies on heavy hitters Brittany Vaske (211 kills), Allie Simpson (150) and Jade Simpson (116) to notch quick points. Setter Connor Barber has 510 assists on the season.
Webster City and Algona have already met twice this season during weekend tournaments, and the Bulldogs had the edge in both confrontations. They notched a two-set sweep over the Lynx at the Algona Invitational on Sept. 14, and 14 days later they nudged out Kastler's squad 2-1 at the Forest City Invite.
But tonight's match-up is the one that counts.
"They're very similar to us and if we played 10 times I think they'd all be close matches that could go either way every time," Kastler said. "They've got a couple of big hitters (and) we've got to be able to get a hand on them. We've got to be able to key on their key players."