Lynx head to Heelan with 4A state trip on the line

WEBSTER CITY – Defy the long odds and send shock waves around the state, that’s what the Webster City volleyball team will attempt to do tonight when it makes the 143-mile trek to Sioux City to face fourth-ranked Bishop Heelan in the Class 4A Region 1 final.

It won’t be easy, reaching the state tournament never is, but don’t tell Lynx head coach Jess Howard or any of her players that they have no chance. As she sees it, two teams will step onto the floor at 7 p.m., and the one that plays the most consistent will be the one bound for Cedar Rapids.

“There’s probably not many people in the state that think we can win this (match) besides the 17 girls and three coaches that are traveling to Sioux City to play,” Howard said. “We’ve really focused on our mentality and what it takes to overcome that. Ability wise, we think we can match-up with anybody and we proved that at Johnston when we played (5A) teams tough.”

Coming off a thrilling five-set regional semifinal victory over Boone, WCHS (16-14) will attempt to deny Heelan (33-8) a state berth for just the second time in the last 11 seasons. The Crusaders have qualified for state in back-to-back campaigns and since 2005 they’ve ended their season in the regional just once.

Heelan won 3A state championships in 2006 and 2007, was the 3A runner-up in 2009 and 2011, and has reached the state semifinal round five other times since 2005, including a year ago.

And none of those facts faze Howard or her players.

“We definitely have the ability and the mindset that we can compete with them,” Howard said. “The girls are ready to get going and play.”

WCHS will face a balanced Heelan attack that features five players with at least 125 kills. Samantha McCabe leads the way with 327, but the Crusaders hit just .191 as a team, not overpowering by any means. The Lynx, meanwhile, have shown the ability to frustrate teams with a solid back line of defense that is anchored by three-year starter Gianna Gourley at libero. Gourley enters the match with 391 digs.

The Lynx are also more than capable of defending well at net. Olivia Myers has 60 solo blocks and Cassidy Nerland owns 30 on the season.

“They’ve got a couple of strong outside hitters that they go to a lot, but that’s typical of teams we’ve played,” Howard said. “Our defense has done a good job of frustrating hitters this year and if we can push it to five games, we think we’ve got the advantage because we’re used to that.”

WCHS will need impactful offensive performances from its two bombers. Myers (222 kills) and Taylor Schnathorst (262 kills) will supply the power, but keeping errors to a minimum will be a necessity.

Myers hits .234, Schnathorst .136 on the season.