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Confident Knights reload with eyes on State run

August 23, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

Head Coach: Brian Jesse

2018 Record 29-15 (L to Clarion-Goldfield-Dows in Regional Final)

2018 showcased why a volleyball season is a marathon, not a sprint. After starting off the year 6-8 amid several rough tournaments and a showdown with conference rival Dike-New Hartford, the Knights would rail off 12-straight wins and reverse course on their season. Though losses would continue to mount and adversity would rear its ugly head on several occasions, Union reached their Regional Final for the third time in four seasons, losing a Clarion-Goldfield-Dows team on their A-game to prevent another State banner from flying its colors in La Porte City.

Article Photos

Front row: Eliana Wilson, Belle Olson, Lexi Nolan, Allie Driscol, Jaidyn Bush. Back row: Bailey Foulk, Laura Rempe, Aubrey Gates, Sophie Winkelpleck, Jasmyn Bush, Sam Glenn, Belle Weber, Ellie Behrens.

"I felt last season was an excellent season for us," coach Brian Jesse said. "We really were playing well at the end of the year and I was happy to make that substate game. I was obviously disappointed with the results, but we played some good volleyball up to that point, beating an excellent CPU team and a good Columbus team with one of our best players out. Unfortunately, we didn't play our best game against Clarion-Goldfield-Dows while they had one of the best games of their season, and that happens. Overall, 2018 was a positive year with good results."

The Knights have seen eight seniors graduate from last year's team, which finished runner-up in the talented NICL East, five of them contributing regularly in the lineup. All-Conference players Hannah Gates and Jayden Jolley, alongside Allie Carty, Megan Carty and Cylie McNeal produced in every major statistical category, but perhaps most important in Jesse's eyes was their leadership.

"Those seniors were a big part of our success and were our emotional leaders," Jesse said. "A lot of those girls would give us our pep out there. We're definitely looking for leaders after graduating those girls. Our girls have got to step up in their roles this season."

Returning for Union are seniors Jasmyn Bush and Sam Glenn, marking a dramatic shift from the size of the previous senior group. Glenn served in a limited role last season as a middle block, tallying nine kills and four blocks in 66 sets in 2018. This season, the Dysart native will find herself in a starting role on this year's team.

"This team is one that really gets along, knows each other and knows how we work on the court best," Glenn said. "We're really good teammates for each other and pick the other up when we need to support one another."

Glenn has spent the offseason improving her swing for her hitting and blocking ability, both of which will prove vital with the graduation of Jolley as a middle hitter last year.

"Sam played a little last year, but we're going to need more out of her," Jesse said. "She's our primary middle block and has the capability to produce, but needs the mindset she can get things done out there while making improvements throughout the season."

Bush, named a First-Team NICL East selection last season, returns for her senior season after receiving a double dose of State action in track and soccer this past spring as a junior. However, the thought of starting off with a State run in volleyball still weighs heavily on her mind 10 months later.

"That last game should have been ours," Bush said. "A lot of people think back to it and all the little stuff we could have done better, but I'm excited to get my senior season started and play one last time, literally giving it all."

In 2018, Bush tallied 276 kills for second on the team 270 digs to lead the Knights and hit her serves at a .899 clip along with 26 aces. She was especially vital in Union's 3-1 win over Columbus Catholic in the first round of Regionals to advance, tallying a season-high 20 kills against the Sailors. Ready to take another step in her game, she has been working on her defense, blocking and positioning in the offseason.

"Jazz was huge when she was moving and playing defense out there," Jesse said. "Our whole team moves up a level when she's playing at her best. She needs to be a little more consistent. Her hitting has improved over last season and she has a good snap on the ball."

Back this season is a talented junior class headlined by First-Team NICL East selection Belle Weber, who filled up stat sheets last season with 398 kills to lead the Knights, 203 digs and successfully served at a .875 clip with 59 aces, all while out for 18 sets in 2018 with various injuries. Allie Driscol came off the bench her sophomore year as a setter, amassing 406 sets along with 105 digs. Sophie Winkelpleck found herself plugged in various roles throughout last season, putting together 38 kills and 152 digs, yet most notable a threat from the serving line (.88 serving) with 64 aces on the season, including the ace to topple fifth-ranked CPU in regional play. The Knights will also look to Ellie Behrens for depth after limited varsity action last season.

"We run a fairly quick offense and hopefully our defense will be solid," Jesse said. "Defense will set the stage for our year. We only have two seniors, so we need Jazz and Sam to step up. Our juniors are willing and capable of taking on leadership roles too. Sophie is a good leader, Belle can be at times."

The last returning Knight to see significant varsity action last season is Lexi Nolan, who posted 133 kills, 41 digs and 21 total blocks as a freshman. After a promising first year, the sophomore is expected to take a step forward in 2019.

"I've talked to Lexi a lot about having a bigger role this year," Jesse said. "She's going to be one of our primary passers when she wasn't last year. She'll go all the way around this season, so those will be big steps in her sophomore year. Lexi will need to be solid and increase her hitting efficiency."

Current sophomores and juniors who played JV nearly exclusively last season-Belle Olson, Laura Rempe, Eliana Wilson and Bailey Foulk-could also potentially see varsity minutes this season. Jesse also expressed interest in the potential of two freshman out this season.

"Jaidyn Bush has been impressive early and Audrey Gates is a very good hitter with a lot of spring in her legs, hits the ball high," Jesse said. "I don't know how much those two will play this season, but they're pushing the people ahead of them. They'll be valuable players down the road. They are definitely in the mix to see some time."

Defensively, the Knights lost three senior leaders in libero Allie Carty (263 digs), McNeal (165 digs) and Jolley (95 total blocks) to graduation, leaving opportunity for young players to step in and have an impact this season, especially in the back row.

"There's a couple of girls working on defense," Jesse said. "Bailey Foulk is working hard and doing a good job. Jaidyn could see some time as libero. Eliana Wilson has come on as a junior and I've been impressed with her early season. Any of those three girls can step up and play. I'm not sure how we're going to use the libero this year. It might be different than in the past, but we'll have to see how it goes."

Driscol will take up the vast majority of sets this season after sharing duties with Gates last season. However, the junior will have a backup if necessary.

"Sophie has been working on her setting this winter and we're looking to her set a bit from time to time," Jesse said. "Jaidyn is also a setter and will be a good one down the road. Allie has some backup, but will do the majority of the setting this year."

The team has spent their summer working on their defense, serving and developing a chemistry which has carried over from last year's team.

"This team is very energetic, close to one another," Bush said. "We have a good bond and get along together off and on the court."

Yet for chemistry to work, leadership has to be developed for a team which lost a group of seniors known for their on and off court leadership abilities which helped guide the team to a deep postseason run.

"I feel I need to be a leader for this team as a senior and step out of my comfort zone," Glenn said. "The last few years I haven't had this chance, so this season is my chance to be a leader on the court. We have a good chance of winning our conference if we give it our all each game. State, of course, is out there and it would be awesome to make it after that heartbreaker last season."

For a team playing with a mix of veteran players and new faces, Bush believes she needs to lead by example, be vocal and keep her chin up no matter what situations the Knights may find themselves in this season.

"I know I have to be positive out there all the time," Bush said. "If I get low, the team gets low. I need to explain to others what went wrong just to get better, not to be mean or negative. We're all going to need to be strong this season and I believe I can help that as a leader."

The Knights will embark on a similar schedule to last season, including tournaments at Independence, North Scott, Monticello, Waverly-Shell Rock and Knoxville in addition to a tough conference slate once again in 2019.

"Our schedule starts off with some tough tournaments and we'll need to weather those, hopefully start off stronger than last year," Jesse said. "Our conference will be tough again with Dike-New Hartford on top. We saw Hudson this summer and they've got some real firepower there. Sumner-Fredericksburg has some good players, Columbus is always solid. We're always prepared for this schedule, but we get a lot of tough draws at these tournaments. Hopefully that helps us early."

While the Knights do have to address their defense and work on incorporating new players to varsity play, a sense of optimism exists among both coaching staff and players that this team is capable of reaching State. Their first goal, however, is to take the regular season and conference games one by one to be a better team from day one to their Senior Night home game hosting Wapsie Valley on October 15.

"We obviously want to go State and I just feel in me we're going to this season," Bush said.

Union volleyball will start its season with a tournament at Independence on Saturday, Aug. 31, squaring off against the host Mustangs at 9:00 a.m. The Knights will head the road to Aplington-Parkersburg on Thursday, Sept. 5 and host their first home game of the season vs Hudson on Tuesday, Sept. 10.



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