Tawa’s Dots: A high school volleyball state title smorgasbord


This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in high school volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots through the last high school state championship in November.

• Western Christian (43-5) edged Dike-New Hartford (44-3) in an epic Iowa 2A championship match on Thursday. The Wolfpack trailed 13-9 and 14-11 in the deciding set before rallying to topple the top-seeded and two-time defending champion Wolverines.

The title was No. 18 for Western Christian, dating back to 1989. DNH had been seeking its ninth state title all-time.

For the past 13 years, only Western Christian and DNH have won 2A.

Tammi Veerbeek, the head coach at Western Christian since 1999, had been 0-6 in previous state championship matchups with DNH and coach Diane Harms. Veerbeek now has overseen 13 state championship efforts.

Stella Winterfield, who had 24 kills and 15 digs, was named state tournament MVP. Senior OH Abby VerBurg had a team-high 26 kills, including back-to-back terminations to fight off two match points.

Payton Petersen
 had 26 kills, 11 digs and three aces to lead Dike-New Hartford. Twin Jadyn Petersen added 15 kills, nine digs and five aces.

In other Iowa finals, Cassidy Hartman had 24 kills and 15 digs to lead Iowa City Liberty past Pleasant Valley in four sets in 5A, Maci Kadlec and Libby Fandel teamed for 43 kills and 32 digs as Cedar Rapids Xavier got by Clear Creek Amana in four in Class 4A, Ava Schubert produced 17 kills and nine digs to help Davenport Assumption win state for the first time, in sweeping fashion over Sioux Center in 3A, and Macey Nehring, Anna Weathers and Carley Craighead teamed for 53 kills and MVP Katie Quick contributed 52 assists, eight kills and 15 digs in Ankeny Christian’s five-set win in Class 1A over Gladsbrook-ReinbeckAva Wright had 25 kills in the loss.

• In October, 2011, I traveled to Hull, Iowa, to watch Western Christian play a home match. The Wolfpack dominated, of course, but the story was as much about the town, the coach and the way of life in northwest Iowa than it was about the match versus Spencer. It is such a worthwhile read that I am reproducing it here:

Western Christian Win Is True To Farm

Hull, IA: Western Christian won its Lakes Conference match versus Spencer Tuesday night, 25-7, 25-10, 25-9, no surprise since the Wolfpack have never lost a conference match. 31-0 in 2011 and the best team in the state regardless of class, this school, situated in a rural town of approximately 2,500, is a volleyball factory, with 13 state titles in the past 22 years, eight since 2001.

Indeed, with a current roster boasting a freshman setter with super-fast hands, a high flying 5-11 junior middle, a 6-5 sophomore RS who blocks with armpits above the net and a freshman on junior varsity who would start on most varsity teams across the country, it seems apropos to ask: is Hull volleyball heaven?

No. It’s Iowa.

Western Christian is a small school of approximately 300 students in grades 9-12 who travel from as far as an hour away for the Christian education the school provides. The faculty and students are primarily descended from Dutch settlers who came to this region in the Northwest part of the state a long time ago and whose Christian Reformed religion is the center of their daily lives.

The town itself is surrounded by corn fields and pig and cattle farms. Agriculture, as you might surmise, is the lifeblood of Hull and the surrounding communities.

I arrived a few hours before match time and wandered around town on an 86-degree day. Within 30 minutes, my right arm was aching from so much waving. Every adult driving or walking past greeted me with a wave and a smile. And yet, my status as an outsider was palpable. Young kids walking home from school alone, bicycles left unchained on the sidewalk, it was obvious that Hull did not have folks they didn’t know come into the heart of town every day. I wanted to make certain that I, with my PrepVolleyball.com polo on, was not perceived as a threat to its citizens.

I wandered past the public school, located half a mile from Western. Boyden-Hull Community School is smaller than Western Christian. Playing in Class 1A, the Comets have had success in volleyball but not nearly on the level of its Christian counterpart. In this very Christian, very conservative community, most of the athletes go to Western. It’s where they want to be, for the Christian education and the pride of wearing the Wolfpack uniform. It’s where they’ve always dreamed about going.

Girls in and about Hull are first introduced to volleyball at age 10, via an AAU program that reaches into the Christian feeder schools. The coaches aren’t parents just acting as caretakers for the athletes; they are coaches on the high school staff and others with experience in the game and how Western head coach Tammi Veerbeek wants things done. They teach them the right way and the kids fall in love with the sport

“Last year we had 34 10-year-olds playing volleyball for nine Saturdays in a row,” said Veerbeek. “We are training them at a young age in the system we want and they love it. They come out in hoards. We develop the passion for the game and it carries on.”

I walk into the gym early and the junior varsity match is going on. Freshman Ema Altena is long and athletic with a strong and fast arm on the left. She would be a major contributor on most varsity teams in the state and beyond. Not at Western Christian.

“Sometimes great players in our program have to wait a year or two because we are so dominant,” Veerbeek explained. “We have great players a lot of times on JV.”

After the junior varsity completes its pounding of Spencer, the Western Christian varsity runs onto the court. Of the 13 players on the roster, six are 5-10 or taller, including a lean 6-5 sophomore named Haley Moss. None plays club volleyball.

The majority of the players share a Dutch heritage. The Dutch are known for their height and Western Christian always seems to have tall players.

There also is a freshman, 5-8 Jamie Gesink, looking very comfortable warming up her fast hands. Gesink’s sister, Kayla, was the starting setter for the Wolfpack last year and state 2A Player of the Year. There are a lot of legacy players at Western Christian, including sophomore libero Allisa Pollema, one of four Pollema girls dotting the varsity, JV and freshman rosters. Her mother, Barb Pollema, is the JV head coach and played at the school in the 1980s.

Veerbeek also played volleyball at Western. She graduated in 1992 and was on two teams that finished as state runner up to the great Dubuque Wahlert teams at the time. She was hired to coach Western Christian in 1999 and has been a part of nine state championship teams.

Do not conclude, from what you’ve read so far, that this story is about a program content to use its tall girls to beat up on local competition before going on to win state in Class 2A, the second-smallest in the state’s current four-class configuration.

“Our girls don’t want to just be the best in 2A, they went to be the best in Iowa,” Veerbeek said. “We strive to go out to beat the Ankenys, the Iowa City Highs, the Bishop Heelans. Every year it’s a new team and they feel that sense of pride and desire to be successful. They don’t want to be the team to let everyone down. Everyone is looking at them to continue the tradition.”

Before the match, there are two ceremonies. The parents of Olympian Nancy Meendering Metcalf, a Western Christian alumna who was two-time Big 12 Player of the Year at Nebraska in the 1990s, present a framed Olympic team jersey to be displayed in the gym lobby. Metcalf, a 6-1 lefty, is not the only big time graduate of Western Christian. She succeeded 6-4 lefty Lisa Reitsma both at Western and at Nebraska. Reitsma was a two-time All American with the Huskers.

Most Western Christian players, however, do not play big time collegiate volleyball, choosing instead to stay close to their home and their faith by playing for the local Christian colleges, including Dordt College in Sioux Center, where Veerbeek played.

“I do think there are some players that could go Division I and would want to if given the chance,” Veerbeek said. “Sometimes I feel that, even among Iowa universities, they know our faith and don’t think they have a shot. Sometimes I don’t think they try hard enough.”

Tonight is Senior Night and Jami Driesen and Kayla Scholten and their parents are being recognized and honored. That’s right. Western Christian has only two seniors on its roster. They will start Game 1 tonight, but the team Veerbeek usually puts on the floor usually consists of four juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. Of those eight, only one, All State junior middle Brooke Wolterstorff, is a returning starter. The Wolfpack graduated seven off of last year’s state championship team. The majority of the 2011 varsity was on the JV team that went 36-0 in 2010. The players have simply picked up where they left off last fall.

“I knew this team was going to have a ton of talent but we’d be young,” Veerbeek explained.

The match itself is incidental to the rest of the story. Wolterstorff, a quick jumping junior middle, rips two kills as part of a 7-0 opening run against an overwhelmed Spencer team that hasn’t had a better than .500 record for several years.

Wolterstorff also is an All State basketball player and one of nine Wolfpack volleyballers who also play basketball. At a small school like Western, all the sports – volleyball, basketball, softball, track & field — share athletes. But if you look at the gym wall, only the volleyball program has been able to hang banners.

“We have not won state but we are building those programs as well,” Veerbeek said. “Girls have fallen in love with volleyball. Once we started being successful, I think success breeds success. You can tell from the gym tonight that there are a lot of girls in the stands dreaming about this being them some day. It’s just tradition over the years that never graduates.”

The 7-0 run also includes three aces from Driesen. Both seniors play very well in the first set, which ends with a Driesen kill. The seniors may not be starters on this team, but they are very good. They will get to hang another banner in 2011.

Game 2 starts with a left side swing from 5-11 sophomore Jade Schaap. Schaap had to sit Game 1 in favor of the seniors, but she quickly shows off her fast arm against a helpless Tiger block. The game quickly gets out of hand as two blocks on the left from 5-7 junior Kim Kroeze are followed by one on the right from Moss, who is a true 6-5 with potential to be a dominant blocker. Spencer treats the sophomore like she already is by trying to hit over or around her, and the ball consistently flies beyond the court boundaries.

An ace from senior libero Maddie Conley pulls Spencer to within 19-9. She is a bright spot on this Tiger team, as are junior middles Taylor Glover and Taylor Anderson.

The between-sets entertainment in many ways is more compelling than the volleyball. Pizza Ranch, the only restaurant in Hull, sponsors a contest. If servers from the stands hit the empty pizza boxes scattered randomly on the other side of the net, they get a free pizza. This gives the young girls who one day will be wearing the Wolfpack uniform the chance to get on the court, to dream about what it will be like to serve in a real match and maybe to earn a meal for her family in the process.

Game 3 starts with a 10-0 Western Christian run, including three aces in a row from junior DS Jasmine VanderZwaag. Wolterstorff scores at will and Scholten has two kills and a block as the dominance continues. It won’t end with the conclusion of this match or this year. This is Western Christian volleyball, where success breeds success.

• Iowa was one of 15 states to conduct state championship events this past weekend. In Nebraska, Iowa’s neighbor to the west, the big news came in Class B, where Omaha Skutt (30-10) set a state record with its eighth consecutive title.

Skutt’s eight title in a row is a Nebraska state record

The championship final was quite the battle, with the SkyHawks needing five sets to knock off Elkhorn North.

Morgan Burke (57 kills, 59 digs, and seven blocks in 3 state matches), Paisley Douglas (106 digs and three aces in 3 state matches), and Ivy Leuck (46 kills, 39 digs, and 92 assists in 3 state matches) were among the standouts in what took a total team effort to win. Burke scored the clinching kill in the 15-11 Game 5 win. Grace Heany, a Purdue recruit, had 28 kills from the right side to lead Elkhorn North (32-5).

Other Nebraska highlights included Lincoln Lutheran capping a 40-0 season with the Class C-2 crown and Papillion-La Vista South winning its third title in four years in a four-set Class A win over Omaha Westside, which was making its first finals appearance in 37 years.

Lauren Medeck and Stella Adeyami had 46 kills combined to lead the Titans, offsetting the 44 kills combined for Westside’s Destiny Ndam-Simpson and Samantha Laird.

• Sticking with the theme, let’s travel one state further west to Wyoming, where senior-heavy Kelly Walsh swept Cody to win its first 4A title in three years. Head coach Jeff Barkell said that his Trojans (34-1) might have been his best team ever, and they proved it behind the play of senior hitters, and University of Wyoming recruits Peyton Carruth and Abi Milby, who combined for 27 kills and 44 digs in the win.

The title was the ninth all-time for Kelly Walsh and fourth over the past six seasons. The Trojans have played for the title every year since 2016.

Other notable Wyoming results include Mountain View knocking off defending Class 3A champion Lyman in five set, Burns winning its first title in Class 2A in 30 years and Riverside rallying with the reverse sweep in Class 1A to win its first title in program history.

• One state to the south of Wyoming, the big news in Utah was Timpview’s repeat state title in Class 5A. In order to win, the Timberwolves had to upset top-seeded Bountiful (Harvey sisters) in a five-set semifinal, then topple second-seeded Mountain View in four sets for the title.

Not only was setter Silina Damuni her usual outstanding self for Timpview; she set the state record for most career assists at the state tournament.

In another result of note, Lone Peak won its third straight 6A title, defeating Mountain Ridge behind the standout play of MB Zoey Burgess. The title was the first for new head coach Paula Jardine, who guided the Knights back from a 1-3 start to finish 25-8 for the season.

• In only three states nationally is just one state champion crowned. Delaware and Vermont make sense, since they are relatively small. The third is Kentucky, where all schools come together to determine who is the one true queen of the hill.

This weekend, the Bluegrass State crowned its champion. It wasn’t the Louisville “Big Three” of Assumption, Mercy or Sacred Heart. Rather, this year’s champion is Notre Dame, from Northern Kentucky. The Pandas won their 10th title all time, in three sets, and second in three years, denying a Dunbar team that was seeking to become the first public school ever to win a state title since the tournament was instituted in 1979.

Notre Dame finished 34-5 in a season where the Pandas defeated Assumption twice in five-set matches, a feat they had NEVER accomplished even once before this year. The second time came in the state tournament semifinals.

Libero Kamden Schrand starred for Notre Dame, with 19 digs. Sydney Nolan, who had 19 kills, was named tournament MVP.

• To the north of Kentucky is Indiana. In the Hoosier State, Hamilton Southeastern won its first-ever state title, completing a 34-1 season with a four-set win over 34-3 Yorktown in Class 4A. Avery Hobson had 17 kills, including the match-clincher, to seal the win for the Royals. Hobson is HSE’s only senior.

Some familiar names won 3A and 2A, as Providence and Wapahani won titles. Providence won its fourth championship, led by Grace Purichia. Wapahani won its sixth title, led by senior Camryn Wise. Wise had 2 kills, five aces, five digs and three blocks in the four-set win over Linton-StocktonBlackhawk Christian outlasted Tecumseh in five for the 1A title, its second since breaking through for the first time in 2016.

• Senior OH Jurnee Robinson stamped herself as one of South Carolina’s best ever by leading Mauldin to its first title in Class AAAAA.  Robinson had 25 kills and 13 digs in the three-set sweep over Lexington. Mauldin defeated last year’s champion, perennial power Dorman, to reach the title tilt.

Robinson had 11 kills in the first set to set the tone.

Lafayette won in honor of influential coaches who died over the past year

• Lafayette won six straight large-class state titles between 2011 and 2016, but the Lancers had not won since. Until Saturday, when they defeated Kickapoo in four sets to take the Class 5 title. The win was especially meaningful given that the St. Louis community lost two young coaches, Cary Cusamono of HP STL and Lafayette volunteer assistant Chris Toomey, to cardiac events over the past year.

Lafayette finished the year on a 21-match winning streak, going undefeated in October and November.

Sophomore Maya Witherspoon and junior Allison Risley had 17 kills apiece to pace Lafayette in the championship match. Junior Alyssa Nelson had 48 assists and Risley also contributed 20 digs.

Libero Kya Johnson had 33 digs to lead Kickapoo.

“This one is special. This one is different,” Young told local media. “I’ve never had to go through this before. It’s not about me at all, but for me personally, two of my best friends in the world — Cary Cusumano, Chris Toomey — we lost them this year. It drove me as a coach to do everything I could in my power to get the team as far as they could but also I just looked at the game so differently. I got to enjoy it more. I learned so much from the two of them and they were both with me and all our coaches throughout this weekend, especially Chris Toomey obviously with our group. Not many on this team knew Cary as well, but Chris is just the heart of everything we want to do and who we want to be as people.”

Blair Oaks repeated in Missouri

Blair Oaks won its second straight Class 3 title. The Jefferson City squad did not drop an entire set during its postseason run.

“After winning for the first time ever last year, all the girls came together once postseason started to accomplish their ultimate goal and prove last year was not a one-time thing,” said coach Megan Distler.

• This is Dot No. 10 and I’m not close to covering all the states that crowned champions. Here comes some rapid fire:

In Oregon, two teams came to state unbeaten. Only one left the same way. Damascus Christian (36-0) rallied from two sets down in 1A to defeat defending champion North Douglas for its first title ever. Jesuit (33-1) lost to a Sheldon team it had swept three times before. Kait Wood was unstoppable in the middle for the Irish.

Speaking of unstoppable, Monroe’s Bella Gamache had 41 kills, a tournament finals record, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Salem Academy from repeating in 2A.

Georgia’s state championships were highlighted by Lambert’s near-miss in Class 7A. The Longhorns stormed the court after a Buford swing went long in Game 5 of their epic match before learning that the up ref had overruled the line judge and determined that the ball was touched by the Lambert block. Buford went on to capture its third title in a row, deep into overtime at 19-17.

Polly Cummings had 54 assists and Ashley Sturzoiu and Sydney Austin combined for 41 kills for the victors.

Pace Academy also three-peated, while Greater Atlanta Christian and Mt. Paran celebrated back-to-back titles.

In North Carolina, North Iredell completed an unbeaten season by upended J.H. Rose in five sets in Class 3A. Junior Kiki Horne (remember the name) had 26 kills in Millbrook’s three-set sweep in 4A.

Essex (who else?) won the title in Vermont.

Bedford won its third straight New Hampshire Division I title, this time in five over Hollis-Brookline.

Finally, in Wisconsin, Howards Grove, led by Saige Damrow, became the first in Division 3 to win four titles in a row.

Divine Savior Holy Angels got 25 kills from Madison Quest to dethrone Oconomowoc in Division 1.

***

Sorry I could not get to single-match stat leaders again this week. It’s a crazy time.

Until next time …

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