Your Prep Sports
A volleyball season like no other before it came to a close last week in Cedar Rapids with state champions being crowned in all five classes.
The global coronavirus pandemic put the start of the season in jeopardy, caused interruptions for three area teams and ended another area squad’s season early.
Still, there was fantastic volleyball played this fall in the Your Prep Sports area.
Here is a look back at some of the best plays, moments and performances from area teams and players during a unique 2020 season.
Best individual performance: Cassidy Hartman against West Des Moines Dowling. What Hartman did against top-ranked Dowling in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament ranks among the best individual performance in the state this season. The Liberty High sophomore standout had 35 kills on .455 hitting while also add a team-high 18 digs and four ace serves in a five-set win.
Best individual performance part 2: Alia Vanderhoef against Cedar Falls. In her first match after a three-week layoff Vanderhoef nearly lifted City High to the upset of the year against defending 5A champion Cedar Falls. Vanderhoef had a career-high 22 kills and added 20 digs in a five-set loss to eventual 5A quarterfinalist Cedar Falls.
Coach of the year: Randy Dolson garnered attention last season after directing Liberty High to a 34-3 record and a state tournament berth in the program’s third season. What the Dolson-led Lightning did this season was even more impressive. Despite having its season interrupted for three weeks in September Liberty High went 24-3 and finished runner-up in 5A. Liberty High avenged both of its regular season losses at the state tournament, part of a 16-match win streak that sent the Lightning to its first state title game.
Best coaching performance: While Dolson deserves the award for coach of the year West High coach Keeley Arnold certainly is worthy of recognition for the job she did after taking over for Scott Sanders mid-season. Arnold helped West High go from six wins last season to a 13-15 mark this fall that included an upset of eighth-ranked Dubuque Hempstead in the regular season finale and a win over City High in the regional opener that avenged a regular season sweep to the Little Hawks.
Most timely performance: West High senior Rylie Baldes entered the postseason match with City High with 44 kills on the season and had two in a regular season loss to the Little Hawks. Baldes responded by hammering a career-high 17 kills, with at least four in each set of a four-set West High win.
Most versatile: Regina senior Annie Gahan. The area had several six-rotation players with stellar seasons but Gahan filled the role of all-around player as well as any. A multi-year, four-sport athlete versatility has long been an attribute for Gahan who led Regina in kills (172) and blocks (39) and ranked second on the team in digs (145) and ace serves (36).
Most patient performer: West Branch senior Lila Krall had to wait nearly her entire career for an opportunity but when it came Krall made the most of it. Thrust into the lineup for the first extended playing time of her career Krall had three kills, three ace serves and four digs in a regional semifinal win over Van Buren and had a kill, an ace block and a dig against No. 2 Wilton in the regional final.
Best stat you may not have known: Solon sisters Kennedy and Delaney Bombei each ranked in the top six in Class 3A in a statistical category this season. Sophomore Delaney was fifth in 3A with 77 total blocks (she was 4th with 49 solo blocks) while senior Kennedy was sixth with 56 ace serves.
Biggest upset: West High over Dubuque Hempstead. West High closed the regular season with a bang, rallying to win a five-set thriller over eighth-ranked Dubuque Hempstead. The win over Hempstead was even more impressive after the Mustangs went on to reach the state tournament where they won the opening set from top-ranked West Des Moines Dowling in a four-set loss in the 5A quarterfinals.
Best match: West High over Dubuque Hempstead. There were other contenders including Liberty High’s five-set win over West Des Moines Dowling in the 5A semifinals but West High’s win in the regular season finale was an absolute classic. All five sets were decided by two points with three sets going past 25 points including an epic 31-29 second set. West High rallied from a two-set deficit to win 23-25, 29-31, 28-26, 26-24, 15-13.
Best quote: Liberty High senior Lauren Roman. “I’m just so grateful that we even got to this point with COVID and everything, we’ve had a lot of setbacks so I am so happy to be here. As seniors we were treating every practice, every game like it was our last because we had no idea what was going to happen so it’s super exciting to be going to state.”
Breakthrough performer: Solon junior Maddie Manifold. Manifold tripled her kill total from a year ago while emerging as one of the top hitting options in a balanced Solon attack. Manifold finished with a team-high 174 kills this season, averaging 2 per set, after finishing with 50 kills as a sophomore.
Newcomer of the year: Liberty High sophomore Kennedy Daugherty. Technically, Daugherty wasn’t new to the program after playing in 19 matches a year ago but the sophomore was in her first year of full-time action and made the most of it hammering 105 kills.
Unsung hero: West Branch senior Lexie Peak. Back row players are often overlooked but Peak made that almost impossible with her play this season. Peak had a team-high 319 digs and added 35 ace serves on her way to being named to the River Valley Conference Elite team.
Most consistent: Clear Creek Amana junior Calia Clubb has become so consistent it is easy to overlook the impact the Illinois State recruit has for the Clippers. (That is meant as a compliment by the way). Clubb put together another stellar season posting a team-high 243 kills and ranking second on the team with 226 digs on her way to being a unanimous WAMAC West Division pick and helping Clear Creek Amana to a 25-6 record and a top-10 ranking in Class 4A.
Under the radar star: City High junior setter Makayla Ribble is quietly become one of the best setters and leaders in the Mississippi Valley Conference. Ribble had 551 assists this season, added 55 kills and ranked second on the team with 26 ace serves and 180 digs.
Most improved: Clear Creek Amana senior Hailey Pollock. Most improved going to a player that was second-team all WAMAC West as a junior? Well, yeah. Few players can stake claim to the type of continued improvement that Pollock has made over a four-year varsity career. The 6-foot-2 middle was at her best this season with 221 kills on .342 hitting, a career-high 79 blocks and 36 ace serves while earning first team WAMAC honors for the first time.
Freshman of the year: West High’s Melae’ Lacy. A big reason the Trojans were able to double their win total from a year ago was the immediate contributions from Lacy who hammered a team-high 174 kills in her varsity debut. An explosive presence at the net, Lacy added 15 blocks and 10 ace serves in her first varsity season.
Freshman of the year part 2: City High’s Claire Ernst. Ernst made an immediate impact in her varsity debut season, literally, with 14 kills in her first varsity match. The strong start helped Ernst rank second on the team with 136 kills and 145 digs as a freshman and she also had 10 ace serves.
Back row player of the year: Liberty High senior Addie Schmierer. The senior libero and Drake recruit had a team-high 258 digs this season but her value on the court expanded well past what could be counted on a state sheet. A four-year varsity starter and key leader for Liberty High, head coach Randy Dolson called Schmierer the best communicator on the team and was critical in making calls for front row players.
Most valuable player: Liberty High sophomore Cassidy Hartman. Hartman built on an impressive freshman season establishing herself as one of the top players in the state as a sophomore. Hartman led Liberty High with 338 kills, ranked second on the team with 223 digs and had 32 blocks and 34 ace serves. She was at her best at the state tournament, pounding at least 17 kills in all three matches on her way to being named to the 5A all tournament team.