No fairy tale ending
WEBSTER CITY – The want and the know how were on opposite ends of the spectrum for the Webster City volleyball team Tuesday night.
Everyone on the Webster City sideline wanted to win a second straight North Central Conference volleyball championship and a third title in the past four years.
But figuring out how to curtail the relentless energy of Algona – the darling of the league for pretty much all of the last decade – was a puzzle no one in purple and gold could solve.
The Bulldogs waltzed into the WCHS gymnasium and spoiled a potential conference coronation, as they rebounded from a tough Set 1 loss to win the next three and dispose of the Lynx, 3-1, on the final night of the regular season for both teams.
“It’s a blow to the system because everyone wanted this real bad,” WCHS head coach Jess Howard said following Algona’s 29-31, 25-20, 25-19, 25-17 victory. “It was just a matter of Algona playing that much better than us. If we play them tomorrow night it could be a completely different outcome. We’ll just try to learn from this one.”
One team’s loss will be another team’s gain. No. 11-ranked (Class 3A) Iowa Falls-Alden and Humboldt will meet tonight in Humboldt with the winner taking outright ownership of the NCC crown, while the loser will have to settle for a three-way tie for second with WCHS (16-15, 5-2 NCC) and Algona (27-12, 5-2 NCC).
After prevailing in a wildly entraining and long opening set that featured 17 ties and eight lead changes, WCHS led for a grand total of three points – all of them at the onset of the fourth set – the remainder of the way.
Algona was quicker to the punch. Algona made fewer mistakes. And Algona spread the wealth around – a move that kept WCHS pinned on its heels and, eventually, sapped the home team of all of its confidence and energy.
“You have to give Algona credit because they’re a scrappy team and they play defense really well,” Howard said. “I don’t know if we were playing tense or playing nervous and afraid to make mistakes, but anything like that is going to affect you.”
Carly Seely – the second-leading hitter in the NCC – led the Bulldogs with 20 kills, while teammates Maddie Hoch and Allie Brown had six each. Sami Grein collected a match-high 28 digs.
Molly Gilbert – one of six WCHS seniors honored before the match – smacked 21 kills, while classmates Hannah Myers and Alex Dinsdale finished with eight and seven, respectively. The Lynx hit a dismal .094 with 45 kills against 31 errors.
Myers was a force in the middle in the opening set, as her solo blocks accounted for three of the team’s first four points. She finished the set with four kills and four blocks.
But Algona neutralized Myers the remainder of the way. The Bulldogs used angles to avoid her defensive wall and she had just four more kills and three more blocks over the final three sets.
“Their serving was very effective with their placement and the way we were passing the ball we weren’t able to set Hannah as much as we normally do,” Howard said.
Serving was a strength of the Bulldogs, but not the Lynx.
WCHS piled up nine service errors – an egregious offense, particularly in a must-win match.
“If we can’t be focused (behind the service) line then it’s going to kill us because it takes us out of chances to get on runs where we’re scoring points,” Howard said. “We have to get the ball in bounds.”
After pulling way late in the second set to tie the bout at 1, Algona dominated the final two stanzas. The Bulldogs led by as many as 10 points on two occasions in Set 3, and built their lead to as big as eight three times in the finale.
Gilbert and Lynx libero Gianna Gourley came up with 21 and 19 digs, respectively, in the loss. Taylor Schnathorst added 12 digs to go along with a match-high 40 assists.
WCHS fended off three set points and owned four of its own in the first set. Gilbert finally extinguished Algona with back-to-back kills from the left side after the combatants were deadlocked at 29.
Howard says her team will have to put the disappointment in the rearview mirror quickly, as the Lynx have just a few days to prepare for Monday’s Class 4A regional quarterfinal at Humboldt against a Wildcats’ squad that swept WCHS earlier this season.
“We’ve got to make sure we come back and learn from this (match) and have some intensity against Humboldt,” Howard said.