MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT - The Lynnville-Sully volleyball team found out what it feels like to play toe-to-toe with top-ranked Grundy Center - for one glorious, hard-fought point late in the match.
The rest of it, however, was all Spartans.
Grundy Center gave little ground to the Hawks in Friday's Class 1A Region 4 semifinal, surrendering no more than a dozen points in a set. The No. 1-rated Spartans swept away Lynnville-Sully in just 48 minutes, eliminating the Hawks by scores of 25-12, 25-7, 25-12.
Grundy Center senior Heather Hook (11) hammers a kill down the line around the block attempt of Lynnville-Sully’s Cassie Cullen during the third set of Friday’s Class 1A Region 4 semifinal volleyball match at Meskwaki High School. Hook and the top-ranked Spartans advanced with a three-game sweep, 25-12, 25-7, 25-12.
The victory sets up a regional final clash between Grundy Center and Guthrie Center on Wednesday night at Nevada High School. Guthrie Center (12-9) swept Glidden-Ralston, 25-6, 25-22, 25-13, in their semifinal match.
"We've never seen them, but we'll know tomorrow," Spartan head coach Darwin Sents said of the Tigers. "What's weird this year in being in 1A is we played one 1A school all year, and that's Tripoli, so we don't know any of these teams even from last year."
The unknown has been anything but fearful for Grundy Center (32-6).
In annihilating their Class 1A competition in regional play, the Spartans haven't allowed more than 16 points in a set or 38 points in a match.
Friday's final four rout of Lynnville-Sully (15-12) followed suit. Grundy Center asserted itself as the superior team from the start and never let the Hawks play with them. A 5-0 run by the Spartans put them in front 18-7 during the opening set, which itself told the fans in attendance how the match would end.
"I thought we came out a lot more focused tonight, maybe a little bit more intense," said Sents. "The last couple matches I felt like we weren't quite where we needed to be intensity-wise and we talked about that a little bit, and I thought tonight they did a much better job with that."
After finishing off the first set, Grundy Center got out to a 9-2 lead to start the second game and gave the Hawks no glimmer of hope.
"I think we came out serving tough, they immediately were out of their offense, so that helped a lot," said Sents, "and then we hit the ball well too and played good defense. Our dig-to-kill ratio had to be huge.
"Everything we popped up we seemed to put back down. So we were serving tough and then serve-receiving well, and that's tough on the other team so that worked out well for us."
Grundy Center accumulated 12 service aces on the night, led by Heather Hook's five and Peyton Ralston's four. Lynnville-Sully succumbed to the pressure and the inevitable, giving up an eight-point Spartan run to wrap up the second game. Riley Ackerman had six of her team-leading 14 kills during the second set alone, including three in a row to supercede back-to-back aces by Ralston to end the game.
Sents worked some of his reserves into the lineup during the third set, in which Grundy Center got out to a 2-0 lead before a pair of swinging errors let Lynnville-Sully look up at a tie on the scoreboard for the only time all night.
But the Spartans quickly sped away, scoring the next seven points behind a pair of aces from Hook to regain a 9-2 advantage.
Trailing 19-9 in its final set of the season, Lynnville-Sully withstood a barrage of Spartan attacks and send back a fair share of their own during the longest volley of the match.
Finally an Ackerman kill closed the door on the last bit of excitement the Hawks would have, and Riley Sents' service ace made it 21-9. Ackerman and Sam Meyers, the NICL West Division's Most Outstanding Player, chalked up consecutive aces before an Ackerman serve fell uncontested to the floor for the final point of the night.
Ackerman's 14 kills were her season high, while Meyers filled in with 10 kills, Hook had five, both Katie Lindeman and Noel Saak added three, and Stephanie Faust contributed two.
Meyers and Riley Sents led with 12 digs apiece and Ralston had six while also serving 17-for-18. Hook served 17-for-18, too, and totaled 25 assists.
"We got a few more kids in so that was kind of fun," said Coach Sents. "We let some kids play different positions and get the new kids in. Honestly the young kids do so well, they deserve a chance to get out there a little bit. This is not the time of year I like to do that very much, but tonight it worked out.
"I really thought Stephanie, Noel, Katie and Peyton, all the players that you'd call new to this year, I thought they all played very comfortable, very confidently, and that's good to see. They've been playing all year so they should be, but sometimes you get in a regional match and it's not always that way."
The Spartans advance to the regional finals for the third year in a row in hopes of extending their streak of state tournament appearances to three, as well.
After consecutive seasons of falling to Western Christian in the 2A state semifinals, Grundy Center has come across no speed bumps yet in 1A play.
"It's the goal year in, year out, and a very realistic goal again this year," said Coach Sents. "If we just keep playing hard and stay healthy, we're looking for that and then going down to state and having a good time and seeing what we can do there."