Grundy Center volleyball coach Darwin Sents said when he scheduled a tournament in Sioux City Heelan that featured the nation's No. 1 team and three of the top teams in the state of Iowa, many members of the community thought he was crazy.
But Sents and the Spartans rarely turn away from a challenge, having always played a more daunting schedule than the typical teams in their class.
"We think playing great teams each and every year helps build confidence," Sents said. "Sometimes it hurts our seed for the state tournament, but we want to be in those pressure situations."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
The top-ranked Grundy Center volleyball team will be making its third straight appearance in the Iowa State Volleyball Championships later this week when the Spartans begin play in Class 1A action. From left, Grundy Center’s starters include Riley Sents, Peyton Ralston, Noel Saak, Sam Meyers, Riley Ackerman, Heather Hook, Stephanie Faust and Katie Lindeman. The Spartans will kick off tournament action at 7:30 p.m. against No. 14 Grandview Park Baptist.
The record did not hurt the Spartans this season as the 33-6 mark got the top-ranked team in Class 1A the No. 1 seed for the Iowa State Volleyball Championships, which begin Wednesday at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Grundy Center will play in the Class 1A portion of the tourney, which begins Thursday, but the Spartans have only played four 1A teams this season.
"We just don't play a lot of small schools," Sents said. "Playing tougher teams helps us prepare for what we are going to see at state. You will take some lumps, but it means more when you beat those bigger schools."
The Spartans did just that at the Sioux City Heelan Tournament when they knocked off Class 5A No. 1 Ankeny and Class 4A No. 2 Sioux City Heelan. Grundy Center also lost to the nation's No. 1 team in Papillion LaVista South as well as Class 2A No. 2 Western Christian, but Grundy Center senior setter Heather Hook said it was the best thing the team could have done.
"It helps us raise our game a lot," said Hook, who leads the team in assists, aces and blocks. "We get to see faster play, and faster play is what we see at state. It helps us get ready to play the best teams in the state."
The Spartans have six losses this season and every one of those losses came against teams ranked in some way or another.
They were swept in tournaments by Class 2A No. 1 Dike-New Hartford, Class 2A No. 2 Western Christian and Class 4A No. 1 Charles City. The loss to Papillion LaVista South also was in straight sets.
But the Spartans took Class 4A No. 8 West Delaware and Class 3A No. 7 LaPorte City Union to three sets. Grundy Center also beat that same Union team in another tournament in straight sets, took care of Class 2A No. 4 West Branch in three sets and bested Heelan, Ankeny and Denver in three sets.
The only other team the Spartans played in Class 1A that was not in the regional tournament was No. 3 Tripoli and they won 21-18. 21-17. Every other win the Spartans collected this season was in straight sets and no one in the regional tournament managed to score more than 17 points against them.
"Those matches we played this year were good tests for us," said Grundy Center senior hitter Sam Meyers, who leads the team with 446 kills this season. "The bigger schools have faster offenses and we need to be able to handle faster offenses at state."
Senior Riley Ackerman thinks that the Grundy Center schedule this year has prepared the Spartans for anything they will see at the state tournament.
"It is going to help us play better on the big stage," Ackerman said. "We are going to be ready for anything and anyone."
The Spartans, who also swept Marshalltown earlier this season, will begin state tournament action at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 14 Grandview Park Baptist. The Defenders enter the tourney at 29-6.
"They will be the best team we will have seen so far during this run through Class 1A," Sents said. "We need to play our game and play it well."
The Spartans have been knocked out of the state tournament in the semifinals each of the last two seasons in Class 2A.
This year, Grundy Center hopes a daunting schedule can get them over the hump and end the season by hoisting the state championship trophy.
"It gets frustrating," said Sents, who has never coached Grundy Center on championship Saturday at the state tournament. "We have been so close, but we are learning the value of every single point though. Every point matters in this game."