City High senior Mackenzie Ribble. Jackie Blake Jensen/IC Pixx. By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – In 14 years at City High there are two constants Craig Pitcher has found when it comes to the Mississippi Valley Conference tournament.
The first is that it is a long day.
“I’ve told our team the latest we will ever get home is midnight,” Pitcher said. “So far that’s been right we’ve never got back later than midnight.”
The second consistent element of the annual MVC tournament is a seemingly endless string of talented competition.
Pitcher isn’t sure how late this year’s edition of the 14-team tournament will go on Saturday but the veteran City High coach knows it will once again be loaded with talented teams.
West High senior Maddie Fay
Nine teams enter Saturday’s tournament at Cedar Rapids Xavier ranked, including seven teams that are in the top eight of their respective classes.
That list includes Class 5A top-ranked Cedar Falls and the second and fourth ranked teams in Class 4A in Dubuque Wahlert and host Cedar Rapids Xavier.
“Unless volleyball falls off the face of the earth on this side of the state there are always going to be four or five top 10 teams that you are trying to take down whether it is in Class 4A and 5A,” Pitcher said. “You are going to have that and you understand that and then honestly it comes down to matchups.”
With a field full of ranked teams and state tournament regulars picking a winner is always difficult.
This year is no exception.
Class 5A No. 6 West High (19-11) and No. 12 City High (17-12) expect to be in the mix in the tournament that opens with pool play in four pools in the morning with tournament bracket play starting around 2:30 p.m.
“There are so many great teams there and it’s just a really long day,” West High senior setter Maddie Fay said. “It really is a hard tournament to win. Anybody can win, we are all fighting for a win and we all know each other.”
The familiarity brings out another difficult aspect of the tournament.
West High has already faced seventh-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy three times this season and Cedar Rapids Xavier twice.
By the time the MVC tournament rolls around almost every match played is a rematch.
“It’s always hard to beat a team twice and we are playing some of these times for the second or third time,” West High senior libero Madi Ford said. “That makes it tough.”
An annually impressive field has made for plenty of balance in the tournament.
Over the past three seasons six different teams have appeared in the MVC tournament title game with Cedar Falls winning titles in 2013 and again last season.
City High won the title in 2014 and West High last won the tournament in 2011.
West High head coach Randy Dolson led Dubuque Hempstead to the 2012 title.
“It’s a long day and it’s an extremely tough tournament,” Dolson said. “There is no question about that.”
Both City High and West High are playing some of their best volleyball heading into Saturday. City High has won 12 of its last 16 matches with all four losses in that stretch coming to top-10 teams.
West High has won 10 of 13 since a three-set sweep at the hands of Dubuque Wahlert in a MVC Mississippi Division contest in Iowa City on Sept. 13.
“That loss to Wahlert changed our mindset,” West High senior Emily Halverson said. “It kind of opened our eyes a little bit.”
Defending champion and top-ranked Cedar Falls (33-2) enters as the favorite but will have plenty of challengers.
Fifth-ranked Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Kennedy and No. 8 Dubuque Hempstead all enter in the top 10 in 5A.
As Pitcher knows, sometimes the tournament turns in to who can survive.
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the best ball is always being played at the end but if you get on a roll and the matchups work out well then you can come out with a win,” Pitcher said.