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ALAYNA’S GOT GAME

Alayna Finucan makes a diving stab at an attack during the first set against Iowa Falls-Alden on Tuesday in Iowa Falls. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

IOWA FALLS — Alayna Finucan isn’t a mind reader, she just plays the role — and quite well — on the volleyball court.

The Webster City sophomore libero laser focuses in on the set and reads its arc towards the hitter. She then shifts her attention to the attacker, her foot placement and hip angle. And by the time flesh smacks ball, Finucan is usually exactly where she needs to be.

It’s not luck. It’s an art form, one she’s spent years learning.

Finucan put all of her skills on display Tuesday night, particularly in the first and second sets against defending North Central Conference champion Iowa Falls-Alden. Whatever the Cadets blasted over the net, Finucan was there to dig it up from either her feet or on the dive.

It. Was. Impressive.

WCHS attacker Haley Foster (9) takes an angle to hit around the block during the third set against Iowa Falls-Alden on Tuesday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

But how does she do it?

“I just kind of know wherever the set is what they can hit and what they can’t,” Finucan, who finished with 30 digs in the match, said. “I read their bodies and where they’re facing and whether their hand is high or low.”

Finucan’s exploits helped WCHS split the first two sets and you could say she won the early portion of the match in a one-on-one battle against IF-A junior hitter Jenny Wibholm. But Wibholm was in control late, as she hammered the bulk of her match-high 25 kills in the third and fourth sets to propel the Cadets to a 3-1 win over the Lynx in front of a raucous IF-A crowd that was dressed in pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness month.

“We’re right there with the top teams in the conference and we can’t accept defeat,” WCHS head coach Jess Howard said after IF-A took the match 25-22, 20-25, 25-11, 25-19. “We’ve got to come out aggressive and expect to come out on top.”

It really was a tale of two matches. WCHS led for 53 points in the first and second sets that saw 11 ties and six lead changes. But that advantage dwindled to just five points during the third and fourth sets.

Players on the Webster City bench stand and celebrate a block that resulted in a point during the second set against Iowa Falls-Alden on Tuesday in Iowa Falls. The two teams were even after two sets, but the Cadets went on to win the NCC match, 3-1. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Wibholm found her rhythm in the third set, a stanza in which IF-A went on runs of 7-1 and 10-2 to seize control.

“We kind of accepted the fact that they were going to control the third game and we didn’t get after it once they got it to 10-5,” Howard said.

Wibholm hit .385 in the match and IF-A (12-8, 2-3 NCC) put up a kill efficiency of .308. WCHS (14-9, 3-2 NCC), meanwhile, struggled to a .118 efficiency.

“Jenny was swinging harder and she wasn’t swinging towards me (in the third and fourth sets),” Finucan said. “She found a way to swing on the other side and everyone was getting frustrated.”

After trailing for 53 of 56 points, WCHS finally edged in front in the fourth set, 13-12 — it’s first advantage since the end of the second set. A Faith Anderson kill eventually pushed the margin to 15-13, but it wasn’t long before Wibholm asserted herself again from the perimeter. Two kills and a block from her eventually put the Cadets in charge, 21-17 and the Lynx never got closer than three points.

Grace Hoversten (8) goes between the block for one of her 12 kills on Tuesday in Iowa Falls. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WCHS controlled the early portions of the match behind Finucan’s play and solid contributions from Grace Hoversten and Haley Foster up front. The two attackers combined for six first-set kills, as they helped the Lynx build a five-point lead midway through. But serve reception miscues eventually caught up with WCHS, which allowed IF-A to rally and steal the set.

Knotted at 15 in the second set, WCHS went in front on an Adalie Schwandt lash and never trailed again. Hoversten left her mark on the set late with a pair of blocks and a kill to get WCHS to set point. An IF-A error evened the match at 1.

Howard credited Finucan’s back row dominance for the reason that WCHS was firmly in the match heading into the third set.

“She did a great job of controlling their hitters and that was part of the reason it was so difficult for them to get anything going because she was eating them up,” Howard said. “She’s got a different colored jersey on and we hope that’s a bull’s-eye for the other team.”

Finucan leads Class 4A in digs with 339 and digs per set at 5.75.

Faith Anderson smiles as she leans forward from her seat on the sideline during Webster City’s 3-1 loss to Iowa Falls-Alden on Tuesday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Hoversten led WCHS with 12 kills and 31⁄2 blocks. Foster had one of her best performances with 10 kills.

“When she’s hitting strong we’ve got at least three hitters that are going all the time in the front row,” Howard said of Foster, who also contributed 14 digs. “She did a good job of not just attacking cross court; she was hitting down the line and using the tip well too.”

Schwandt added eight kills, while Morgan Gallentine registered six kills and 18 assists. Jenna Miller collected 14 assists.

WCHS will head to the Madrid Invite on Saturday and will follow it up with a non-conference home match against Algona Garrigan on Monday.

IF-Alden 3, Webster City 1

Tuesday at Iowa Falls

Attacks — Grace Hoversten 23-28, 12 kills; Haley Foster 20-25, 10 kills; Adalie Schwandt 22-25, 8 kills; Morgan Gallentine 16-19, 6 kills; Faith Anderson 11-14, 3 kills; Alayna Finucan 1-2; Reese Casey 1-6.

Blocks — Hoversten 31⁄2, Schwandt 1, Casey 1, Anderson 1⁄2.

Digs — Finucan 30, Foster 14, Gallentine 7, Jenna Miller 5, Kelly Stoakes 4, Schwandt 3, Hoversten 3, Anderson 1, Casey 1.

Assists — Gallentine 18, Miller 14, Finucan 5, Casey 1.

Serving — Hoversten 13-14, 1 ace; Foster 17-17; Gallentine 15-15; Miller 13-13; Finucan 11-11; Schwandt 8-8.