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Knights fall to Mustangs, finish semifinalists at State

November 14, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor (editor@dysartreporter.com) , Dysart Reporter

For the third match in a row, Union battled its way through five sets of volleyball, yet came up short of defeating the Mustangs of Mount Vernon during the semifinals of the State Volleyball tournament on Thursday, Nov. 14 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.

"We're used to these five-set games going back and forth," senior Jasmyn Bush said. "You had to believe you could get the next point when you were down, which we did at times. Even through the bad calls, we had to believe."

The two opponents had faced each other during a tournament in Waverly a month ago, with the Mustangs winning both matches and eventually advancing to the State tournament to defeat West Liberty in five.

Article Photos

An emotional Union Knights team pose with a hard-earned State trophy after their loss to Mount Vernon 3-2. The Knights defeated #1 Davenport Assumption 3-2 to advance in the State Volleyball tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday.

"They have really good size and a talented team in general," junior Belle Weber said. "We wanted to get them out of system because we knew they weren't as talented defensively as Davenport Assumption."

Mount Vernon showed off a scrappier side as they refused to let balls drop without a fight, digging out two of 3A's best hitters in Bush and Belle. The Mustangs pulled off the close 25-21 with confidence going into a brutal second set. A back and forth affair had both crowds up on their feet and electrified. Only in the finish did the Knights truly put together a strong rally to take the second set 25-22.

"I didn't feel we passed well enough and we went to Jazz pretty heavily early in the match," coach Brian Jesse said. "We didn't get her enough swings until we settled in. She started punishing that girl on the other side and wish we had more for her on the outside."

As the Knights got Weber the ball effectively in the third set, Lexi Nolan stepped up with a flurry of kills to give Union the lead back after being down as much as six. With the hitting varied between Bush, Nolan and Weber, the Knights were able to pull off a 25-17 win and simply grasp momentum.

"Winning that second set was a sigh of relief," Weber said. "We fought hard in that and the third set because we wanted this bad. Everyone wanted to go to the finals so badly."

Yet the worst set of Union's time in Cedar Rapids came in the fourth set. Passing became erratic and the Mustangs hunkered down defensively once again.

"Our serving became aggressive and they were starting to struggle that third set," Jesse said. "I wish had came out of that fourth set better to challenge them. We did not get off to a good start that set and it gave them confidence back."

Points began to pile up and the Knights for the first time that afternoon seemed gassed mentally. Mount Vernon took advantage and won the critical fourth set 25-10. Knowing a ticket to the 3A finals was on the line, the Knights did the thing they could: move on.

"We wanted to wipe that memory, forget that set happened," Weber said. "We knew we were outplayed that set. Then it became about doing things the right way."

The Mustangs took an early 4-0 lead in the final set, prompting a timeout from Jesse. The Mount Vernon student section had been crashing down on the team, but none more than Sophie Winkelpleck.

"You gotta block the distractions out and I know she did just that no matter how loud it got," Bush said. "It's a lot of pressure being the libero. So much is asked of her and she did great."

The Knights roared back with four points of their own. Suddenly, the match was tight was again and both squads were ready to see who blinked first. Union stood firm even as they were down slim, yet vital points. Yet it was not enough as the Mustangs emerged victorious to move on to the finals against Kuemper Catholic. Weber finished with 16 kills and 15 digs in the loss, Allie Driscol 42 assists, and Nolan nine kills and 17 digs. Winkelpleck finished with 16 digs only weeks after making the switch to Libero.

"Sophie is such a mature girl," Jesse said. "She probably didn't have her best serve receive game today, but her defense was very good. That's the most active I've seen her on defense. She's keep competing and is our vocal leader. I'm proud of what she gave us tonight."

Union finished an emotional season 31-12, reaching the semifinals of the State Volleyball tournament and second in a tough NICL East conference. Bush and Weber individually each reached 1,000 kills, while Driscol reached 2,000 assists on the season.

"If you had told us at the beginning of the year we are one of the top four teams in 3A to end the year, we would have taken that," Jesse said. "We came up a little short of the finals, but we put together some awesome matches this postseason. There's nothing to be disappointed about."

Bush finished her Union career with 21 kills and 12 digs while fellow senior Sam Glenn tallied two kills and a block. Emotions ran high for both leaders after the game as they reflected on the 2019 season.

"I knew coming into this season I wanted to make my senior year special for this team, and it really was," Glenn said. "I wanted to make the younger girls feel included, play as a team no matter what, and I feel we did both those things."

Camaraderie and grit became the definition of this Knights team. Many of the girls had played with one another last season and as they played their best competition, they only grew closer.

"We're all on the same page about what we want and what we need to do to reach our goals," Bush said. "Everyone had their job and know what they need to do. We fight and that become our thing this postseason."

Bush was the lone Knight to compete in a State volleyball game, reaching the finals in 2016 with a talented senior-laden roster. Now a senior herself, she was ready to make her lasting memories as a leader of this team.

"I'm proud of this team and how far we made it," Bush said. "At the end of last season, if someone told us we'd finish top four in the State in our class, I would have told them they're crazy. This team is something else."

While Glenn's playing time over the previous seasons was limited, she continued to work well into her senior year to be a leader and a defensive presence in the middle for Union.

"For me, it was special to play on this court with this team," Glenn said. "This is the most fun I've ever had playing volleyball and I'm sad it had to end like this. We played our best and I'm proud of all of us for how we battled against Assumption. We came back 2-0 and showed how mentally strong we are."

"They both became better, vocal leaders as the season went on," Jesse said of the two seniors. "Jazz brought her athleticism and competitive spirit. Sam hadn't played much before and kept with it, doing some nice things for us this year."

Jesse stated he enjoyed coaching this team because of their closeness with each other. The Knights will lose Bush and Glenn and have questions going into next season to address over the winter and into 2020.

"We're losing a lot of kills, experience in the back row with Jazz graduating after this year," Jesse said. "We'll need someone to step up for kills and in the back row. The younger girls are starting to figure out they need to put in more. Lexi and Belle will need to be better defensively, not that they were bad this year. Hopefully, we can balance our attack a little more. Aubrey has the ability and needs to have a good offseason to improve. Laura has come along."

Photos of Union's semifinal match against Mount Vernon will be posted later Thursday evening.

 
 

 

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