A little over a year ago, the Lewis Central volleyball team was 1-9 heading into a home matchup with cross-town rival St. Albert. On that night, the Saintes handled the Titans in four tough sets.
Those were last year’s Titans.
Coming off of a very successful 4-0 weekend that included victories over Western Dubuque, Iowa City High (Class 5-A No. 10), Ankeny Centennial (5-A No. 6), and Bettendorf (5-A No. 11), Lewis Central won in dominant fashion Tuesday night 25-22, 25-14, 25-12 over Class 1-A No. 9 St. Albert.
Senior libero Rachel Cushing summed things up pretty succinctly.
“Last year’s start motivated us to do better this year,” she said. “I think we really just had momentum carrying from the weekend, and we were really pumped.”
The Class 4-A No. 6 Titans won 15 of their final 18 matches in 2018, and coach Mike Bond sees this start as a continuation of that success.
“They’ve fallen into their roles. Once they learned that last year, that’s how they were very successful,” Bond said. “They came in this year knowing they were the main players on the team. We’ve basically been able to start where we left off last year.”
The first set resembled the high level of play displayed by the two teams a year ago. The teams traded points for much of the set, but late in the game, Titan star Megan Witte took over. With L.C. trailing 21-20, Witte hammered the ball to the floor to tie the set.
What had been a fairly quiet start for Witte turned into a rousing finish. Following the tying kill, Witte had a block and two more kills to finish off the game 25-22.
“Teams are going to camp on her,” Bond said of Witte. Bond was impressed with Witte’s ability to take the coaching she has been receiving to vary her offensive repertoire.
The Titans made a few defensive adjustments, and for much of the rest of the match, St. Albert had a difficult time getting the ball to the floor.
“We definitely made defensive adjustments, that was the biggest thing,” Bond said.
Cushing, the defensive leader for the Titans, led those defensive adjustments.
“They started tipping a lot, so we had to adjust to that. Even the blockers started helping cover for the tips, and we just adjusted off of them,” she said. “I’m supposed to kind of ‘take the lead’, I guess, but everyone is just getting better and more comfortable back there.”
Bond couldn’t be more complimentary of his senior defensive specialist.
“She doesn’t take that role naturally. I’ve told her, she owns the defense. That’s hers,” Bond said. “She gets to tell people where to go. Once she gets comfortable in that role, that’ll help because then it’s not always coming from us.”
Consistent offensive pressure and stellar defensive effort kept the Saintes on their heels as the Titans took the final two sets 25-14 and 25-12.
“The respect that I have for St. Albert, even though we had a big lead, I was still expecting them to come back. They just do that to teams,” Bond said.
St. Albert coach Angie Lantz says her team is still learning to play with a dynamic that is completely different than they have had the past few years.
“They are going to learn a lot about themselves each time they step on the court, and we learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” she said. “We just started to make a few too many errors, and that kind of snowballed on us a little bit. We are still learning how to recover when that happens to us.”
Junior Allie Petry led the Saintes with 20 kills and Olivia Barnes had 27 set assists. Lantz knows that playing competition like Lewis Central will only make them better come late October.
“It’s a no-brainer that we play a really tough schedule. Who doesn’t want to play good competition every time you step out on the court? That’s what’s going to make you better,” she said.
St. Albert will be back in action Saturday in Atlantic to take on the Trojanns and Underwood.
Witte led the Titans with 19 kills, while Delaney Esterling added eight. Senior Natalie Driver had 19 set assists. Madisyn Havermann also added a number of huge blocks, and was tough from the service line.
Lewis Central will travel to Red Oak next Tuesday to play a tough Tiger squad. Bond know his early season schedule is important to create momentum.
“I think beating as many ranked teams in 5-A that we have in our first two weeks, has done nothing but build that confidence,” he said.
Lewis Central (7-2, 1-0) 25 25 25
St. Albert (6-5, 0-2) 22 14 12