By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – In a match in which a lead meant nothing and momentum was as fickle as a reality show bachelor, the West High volleyball team saved the day with some last-minute magic.
The eighth-ranked Women of Troy needed every last ounce of effort to oust No. 9 Bettendorf Monday, 25-23, 25-16, 24-26, 24-26, 16-14, to earn a spot in the 5A state volleyball tournament.
West (23-14) will play No. 2 Ankeny Centennial (32-3) in the quarterfinals on Nov. 8 at noon in Cedar Rapids at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“That was just crazy; we’re so lucky that we got this far,” West junior Colby Greene said. “I’m so happy we could do that for our seniors.”
Bettendorf had been a thorn in West’s side in recent seasons, eliminating the Women of Troy in the 2015 and 2014 state quarterfinals, and winning the last eight consecutive matches between the two teams. The teams were so evenly matched that in the eight sets played between them this season only one was decided by more than two points.
“This is the eighth- and ninth-ranked teams in the state; I guess this is what it was meant to be,” West coach Randy Dolson said. “We’re as evenly matched as we can be.”
West took a 2-0 lead and seemed in control of the match.
“We were communicating really well, and we had really great energy,” senior setter Maddie Fay said in explaining the team’s success in the first two sets.
After losing the first two sets the Bulldogs won the third and fourth in nailbiters to set up the decisive fifth set.
“I think Bettendorf really picked up their game,” Dolson said. “We kind of got caught up in the moment. We played a little tight. It’s like ‘we’re this close to state.’ That was them putting pressure on us, and us getting tight with that pressure.”
In the fifth set Emma Norris served West to a 9-6 lead before Bettendorf got one point on a kill from Kaylin Kuhn. Ali Tauchen’s kill to the middle of the court bumped the lead to 10-7.
Then Dolson played a hunch and sent in freshman Rylee Fay to serve. She hadn’t been on the court at all to that point in the match.
“It was nerve-wracking, but I knew I had to do it for the team,” she said. “I just had to do what I do best. I work hard on (serving).”
“She’s played a lot of volleyball, and she’s one of the best servers on the team,” Dolson said. “We just felt some of our servers were a little tight, a little tired. We wanted someone to serve to the back row. If I had a game ball I’d give little Fay a game ball. She got us (a lead) and that proved to be the difference.”
Fay served three points in a row, all on Bulldog errors, to give West a 13-7 lead.
“It was awesome having her out on the court with me especially for my last home game,” Maddie Fay said of her little sister.
Kills by Caroline Baer and Emma Ostrom cut the lead to 13-9, but a serving error put West on the brink with a 14-9 lead.
True to the nature of this match, the lead was just a tease. The Bulldogs scored five points in a row with two kills apiece from Claire Leonard and Ally Grothusen and a West error. Dolson took a second timeout during the Bulldogs’ run.
“The first timeout we just wanted to calm down a little bit and set up an offensive play,” he said. “We didn’t get the pass we needed. Then we were scrambling a bit at the end, hitting balls eight, 10, 12 feet off the net.
“Second timeout I had each one of them look each other in the eye and say ‘who are we playing for?
We’re not going to let each other down. We’re going to dig in and do what we need to do.’ You’ve got to keep the pressure on the opponent.”
“He said, ‘We’re ready and this is ours, and we’re going to get it,’” Maddie Fay said.
“We were forcing the ball too much and we just needed to relax and play our game,” Norris said.
The mindset was simple even if the task was not.
“We just need to get this next point and every next point,” Maddie Fay said. “And we got it. It’s ours to take.”
Bettendorf served and Greene blocked a shot at the net for the 15th point.
“We’ve gone over it a million times in practice, and I just knew I needed to step up and do it,” Greene said.
Gabi Delsing served for West and Bettendorf eventually returned the ball deep and over the end line for the West victory.
“I was just so happy; I had so much emotion,” Maddie Fay said. “It’s a great feeling.”