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State bound Knights once again

November 5, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

For the first time since 2016, the Union volleyball program has punched its ticket to the State Volleyball Tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids as they exorcised their biggest demon of the season and rose up to end conference rival Dike-New Hartford's 12-year State streak 3-2.

"Right after that last point, I was overwhelmed with emotion and cried tears of joy," senior Jasmyn Bush, the only remaining member of that 2016 team said. "I knew tonight no matter what the outcome was, I would be crying. I was so happy to be in that front row with Sam [Gleen] for that moment."

After being swept by the Wolverines last month in La Porte City, the Knights devoted their time and energy to improving as to prevent such a loss from happening again. Bumps came along the way in the form of tournament struggles (and successes), and the Knights found themselves assigned to the same postseason Regional as their conference rivals. This was the fate Union had wanted to avoid all season long. Yet it came anyway.

Article Photos

The Knights celebrate their momentous 3-2 win over Dike-New Hartford, sending them to the State Tournament for the first time since 2016.

The Knights swept another NICL rival in Columbus Catholic and Roland-Story in La Porte City to put themselves in a position to challenge the Wolverines once again in the Regional final. The winner would advance to State. The loser would go home in tears.

"We definitely had to switch up our defense," Bush said. "Most of the season, we've played one particular way, but with a skilled player like Morgan Weber, we had to adjust. There's no way of stopping some of her hits, but she tips a lot and we had to pick those up. We watched a lot of film from our last game against them and learned a lot to prepare."

All the preparation was to be tested on Monday, Nov. 4 during the final at Grundy Center High School. It was a back and forth battle until the Knights seemingly pulled comfortably away 20-15 and momentum was on their side. Bit by bit, the Wolverines chopped away at the lead. Kills by Laura Rempe and Belle Weber sealed the deal 25-22 and the Knights gained a crucial element for success: confidence.

"Taking that first set was extremely crucial because it gave all of us so much confidence," junior libero Sophie Winkelpleck said. "We knew we were capable of taking them down."

When things seemed to be going Union's way, the Wolverines fired back in the second set with a blistering 8-0 start. The Knights were in a different starting lineup than the previous set, with Bush and Weber in the back row. Instead of giving in, Union slowly pushed back to make it a close set before a final DNH rally gave them their first victory of the night 25-20. Adjusting back to their original lineup, the Knights produced their best set of the night in the third with a 25-15 beatdown.

"We got on a roll in that third set, but I feel it got started in the second set with that fact we fought back," Jesse said. "We could have easily rolled over and gave them that second set and actually had a chance to take that set. Nothing got us down for long. We flushed the bad out, handled the nerves and got on to the next point."

Once again, the Wolverines came back out with a vengeance as they battled hard to take the fourth set 25-21 and quiet down the Union faithful for all but a brief moment.

"There were points in the night we were gassed and Jazz was dealing with breathing problems," Jesse said. "She gutted it out. Some of the things she does out there are so athletic and she keeps swinging."

The Knights had not played a game to five sets all season long up until this point and it came at a crucial time. One team on that court was a set away from a State banner.

"There is a little bit of panic because this is what decides who takes the cake and it can go either way," Winkelpleck said. "Fifth sets are so unpredictable and we definitely felt the pressure. But we're a team that battles for every point and we come back to deficits all the time."

Dike-New Hartford delivered the first punch as they went up 3-0. Jesse calls timeout and had only one message for his team.

"Regroup," Jesse said. "We had to get past [Morgan] Weber in the first row and keep it close. We had a couple of good plays and then our serving stayed aggressive. We knew they wouldn't just give the game to us, we had to stay aggressive."

That winning combination of aggressive serving and attacking caught a tired Wolverines team off guard as they committed a flurry or receiving errors. Jesse grew confident in the final set down 7-5 when Morgan Weber went to the back row and would provide less of an offensive threat. As the Knights looked for a killing blow, the Wolverines defense held steady. It would be a Bush kill that finally ended the game 15-11. The Knights had overcome one of their best opponents on the season to send them to the State Tournament once again.

"I can't even explain how I feel right now about this game," Winkelpleck said. "I don't think anything is going to top this moment in my high school career. I've been dreaming of this since fifth grade volleyball, playing AAU and beach volleyball and putting in the extra work. This happened and we believe in each other."

Belle Weber had 24 kills in the win, followed closely by Bush with 20 kills as each had two blocks. Though stats weren't available in time for publication on Winkelpleck, her serve receive and serving proved to be a critical piece in the win.

"Overall, our serve receive was so much better tonight than when we played them the first time last month," Jesse said. "We knew coming into this match our last time against them was poor, but tonight we prevented big runs, didn't give [Morgan] Weber any big runs. It was the effort by the girls. We talked about not leaving anything on the court or any play. Even though we got down, we battled back."

Jesse also emphasized the need for contributions from other players to help push the Knights to State. Glenn finished with three kills and two blocks, Rempe with four kills and Lexi Nolan with 10 kills.

"Sam didn't get to play a lot last year, but she had a good night tonight," Jesse said. "She had some good blocks, key kills and took advantage of opportunities. Lexi started off a little tight and struggled, but when she gets rolling she can get crafty and moves the ball around. She served well tonight."

Union was presented their 2019 State banner and ticket for the State Tournament, which will run from November 12-15 as all five classes compete in Cedar Rapids. Soon, Bush will not be the only current player to experience State volleyball.

"Like I said at the beginning of the year, my goal was to take this team to State," Bush said. "I wanted the younger girls and everyone to know how it feels to play at the U.S. Cellular Center. It's a totally different game down there. The environment feels like being on a different planet. It's the most amazing feeling in my opinion."

The Knights are currently 30-11 on the season as they enter the State tournament. Union will play on the second day as an eight seed against number one seed Davenport Assumption (32-5) on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 10:00 a.m. Before heading to Cedar Rapids, there's one thing Bush hopes to do first.

"We need to soak it all in," Bush said. "We've made it this far and everyone should be proud of what we've accomplished. In the beginning of the season, we felt we had to do well in tournaments and win the conference. Even when we found out we'd be playing Dike, we went through practice focused and this is the result. I'm very proud of this game and this team."

For coverage of the game, follow Editor CJ Eilers on Twitter @cjeilers. The final score will be posted on the Dysart Reporter Facebook page after the game.



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