GRUNDY CENTER - The Spartans got South Hardin's best shot and survived.
For the first time since 2009, Grundy Center's volleyball team lost a set to a North Iowa Cedar League foe, but the Class 2A No. 9 Spartans rallied for the win Tuesday.
Before it was all said and done, the Spartans served up 14 aces, got 16 kills from sophomore hitter Katie Lindeman and advanced to Friday's Region 5 semifinals after a 22-25, 25-11, 25-22, 26-24 victory over South Hardin.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Grundy Center junior Noel Saak, left, and sophomore Katie Lindeman go up for the block against South Hardin on Tuesday night. Lindeman had 16 kills and Saak served up six aces as the ninth-ranked Spartans won the Class 2A Region 5 quarterfinal in four games.
"We are moving on, that is the key," Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents said. "It certainly wasn't pretty, but you have to win to stay alive. South Hardin played very well, but it is good to still be playing."
The Tigers didn't put up much of a fight the first time around in NICL West play earlier this season. But Tuesday, they came out fired up and used a loud student section to help push them to victory in game one.
The last time an NICL West team took a game from Grundy Center was when Gladbrook-Reinbeck beat the Spartans in a tournament back in 2009. The win Tuesday won't end Grundy Center's consecutive game streak in NICL West play at 91, but South Hardin coach Karla Bronzynski definitely liked her team's effort.
"They played very well, I was really pleased with the effort," she said. "They knew what they had to do and they knew what had to be done. They tried to get it done the best they could."
The win advances the Spartans to Friday's home regional semifinal match against another NICL West foe - West Marshall.
"Hopefully we will play a little smoother on Friday," Sents said. "We won't have to worry about the layoff."
It had been two weeks since the Spartans last took the court. Sents thought the layoff had something to do with Grundy Center's slow start.
The Tigers jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in game one and held a small advantage throughout the rest of the set. Kayla Prosser's kill late in the game gave South Hardin (16-19) its largest lead of the match at 23-18. The Spartans managed to close to within two but the Tigers grabbed an advantage on the scoreboard after a Haley Lawrence block and a Dru Balvanz kill.
"The two-week layoff did not help us," Sents said. "I thought the two weeks showed up in that first game. We came out tight, and South Hardin was doing some good things to keep us on our heels a bit."
The momentum the Tigers gained in the opener was dashed in the second game. The Spartans (27-8) built a big lead thanks to a strong, aggressive serve. Noel Saak served up five straight points and recorded three aces during that stretch to give Grundy Center a 16-7 lead. Consecutive kills by senior Kennedy Buss pushed the lead to 18-8 and the Spartans went on to win 25-11. Saak had six of the Spartans' 14 aces in the match.
"We had two weeks off, so we needed to get the rust off," said Lindeman, who had a kill and an ace down the stretch in game two as well. "We just had to play harder, play as a team and lean on each other when we make mistakes."
The final two games were both competitive. Neither team gained a significant advantage in game three until Lindeman tallied three straight kills to give the Spartans a 23-20 lead. The Tigers trimmed their deficit to one but Lindeman came right back with another kill and then finished off the set with an ace. Lindeman ended up with 16 kills, two aces and was 14-for-16 in serves.
"Katie was our girl tonight," Sents said. "She was swinging down the line really well. For a sophomore, she is playing well beyond her age."
Lindeman continued her hot streak in the final set. Her three straight kills gave Grundy Center a 6-5 lead early, but South Hardin rallied to take a 12-8 advantage thanks in large part to back-to-back kills from Lawrence.
"I think we moved it up a gear and played well," Bronzynski said. "But I wanted that fifth game. That's all there is to it."
The next lead the Spartans would have came on another kill from Lindeman at 15-14. After that, Grundy Center tallied five of the next six points to take a commanding lead at 20-15 and the Spartans eventually went up 23-18 before South Hardin came storming back.
An error and a net violation by the Spartans helped the Tigers get to within 23-20 but an error by the visitors gave Grundy Center match point.
Four points later - including three straight kills by Ellen Swartz - tied things up at 24-all, but a Stephanie Faust kill and a Piper Johanns ace sent the Spartans into the next round.
Faust finished with 13 kills, while Johanns added 18 digs and three aces.
"There was some adversity out there," Sents said. "It was a great match to win. The girls stayed the course and did what we needed to do. There were a number of things that could have been different in the match, but we played through them."
Buss, the Spartans' only senior, finished with seven kills in the win. Riley Sents led the team with 38 digs, while Alyssa Mathews added 19 digs and 17 assists. Peyton Ralston dished out 19 assists.
"A lot of these kids have not been down this road before," Coach Sents said. "This is a learning experience for them. They played different roles in the past. They came through tonight. The first one is always kind of tough."
The Tigers were led at the net by Lawrence and Swartz, who had 14 and 13 kills, respectively. Setter Kayla Prosser also had 10 kills, 23 digs, 36 assists and 6 blocks, while Alaina Lake added 31 digs and four assists. Sarah Boomgarden chipped in 13 digs, five kills and six blocks. South Hardin missed 10 serves and had just one ace.
The Spartans swept West Marshall back in State Center on Sept. 12. The Trojans advanced after their four-set win over CMB. First serve Friday is slated for 7 p.m. ... The Spartans were called for a few five-second violations on serves and Coach Sents also was issued a yellow card in game one. Grundy Center also led 1-0 before a ball had been touched in game three after South Hardin was whistled for a delay of game between sets. ... The Spartans are seeking their fourth straight state tournament berth.