Jays roll into regional final with sweep of George-Little Rock
LE MARS — After a bit of a sluggish second half of their match against Kingsley-Pierson to start the postseason, the No. 4 ranked Gehlen Catholic volleyball team knew they had to come out with a cleaner match the next round. The Lady Jays were up to the task in a 25-12, 25-10, 25-17 sweep of George-Little Rock in Class 1A regional semifinal action Thursday.
Senior Sydney Livermore said that the team played better than their opening round match.
“I think we definitely improved from Monday, so that’s good,” Livermore said. “We’ve been having really solid practices the last week. I think that definitely helps with confidence and knowing we can do it and we have the ability to do what we can.”
Senior libero Chloe Bunkers pointed out specific areas the team showed improvement in.
“Our passing was a lot better than in our last game,” Bunkers said. “We really stepped it up in the passing. At first we weren’t connecting with our setters and hitters, but then we ended up getting that too which helped the flow.”
George-Little Rock scored the first two points of the match for what would amount to one of their few advantages in the match before Gehlen took control the rest of the way.
A run with Livermore in the service box helped the Jays as they pulled away from a 4-4 tie with the next six points. The Mustangs did fight back to within two at 12-10 with libero Emersyn Netten helping the team claw back with an ace, but it was the Gehlen serving which came out on top in the match with several aces. Bunkers said strong serving can change the game regardless of whether or not there is an ace serve.
“We had a lot of good serves and aces which really helped,” Bunkers said. “Serving is really key to making the other team out of system. That helps us get free balls which helps us get easier passes and sets and then kills.”
Livermore sent a kill off the block to force a timeout at 20-12, one of her team-best 13 in the match. The dual threat setter and right side hitter explained you have to be ready for whatever task is thrown your direction.
“Whatever comes, whatever it is, do your job,” Livermore said. “Whether it’s hitting or setting and sometimes I set while I hit, it’s whatever. Tonight I got a hit in the back row once so that was kind of fun.”
Along with her 13 kills, Livermore had 10 assists, tied Bunkers for the team lead with nine digs and dropped in two ace serves.
Gehlen scored the final five points out of the timeout with an Alyssa Kolbeck left-side kill setting up set point which Bunkers clinched with one of her team-high seven aces.
“Once again our serving was very good as we served 93 percent and had 17 aces,” Gehlen Head Coach Mike Meyer said.
The Jays had little trouble in the second as they continued their tough serving with Bunkers getting the majority of her aces in the frame. Miyah Whitehead knocked down the 24th point from her middle spot to bring set point. Livermore praised the play of the middles in the match.
“Our middles had a really good night,” Livermore said. “I thought that was good. I was proud of them.”
Whitehead ended with 10 kills while Rachel Langel added five kills out of the middle spot. Langel led the team with three blocks.
Just like the first set, the Jays clinched the second on an ace from Bunkers. Three of the last four points in the frame came from the senior libero at the service line.
Gehlen pulled away from a slim 6-5 lead in the third with the next six points which included back-to-back ace serves for Alyssa Kolbeck for the 10th and 11th points.
George-Little Rock Head Coach Amy Schmidt called timeout after a Bunkers ace at 22-11 and the Mustangs responded well out of the break as they outscored their opponent 6-3, but those three points were enough to clinch the match as Whitehead put the exclamation mark on the win with a kill in the middle.
For the match, Josie Kolbeck had 19 assists while the younger Alyssa Kolbeck had an all-around good night with six kills, eight digs and four ace serves.
Overall, Coach Meyer was pleased with the team’s play.
“I was pleased that we got a much better effort tonight than we did Monday,” Meyer said. “Our ball control on serve receive was very good as we averaged nearly a 2.50 on our 3-point scale where 3 is a perfect pass. We hit much better as well (.329 efficiency) and we got good production out of our middles (.452). Now we need to step it up a bit again as we enter the regional finals.”
George-Little Rock concludes the season with an 8-20 record as the Jays avenged a loss to the Mustangs from the teams’ last meeting three years ago in the regional semifinal.
Gehlen improves to 24-7 on the season as they advance to Tuesday’s regional final to be held at Le Mars Community. The Jays know they will have to kick their game up another notch for the regional final as the team will play their first team with a winning record since Oct. 10.
“We just have to play our game,” Bunkers said. “A lot of times we’ll start crumbling and playing to the opponents’ level, so we just have to play our game and to our ability the best that we can. We can’t go into a game thinking they are way better than us or they’re way worse than us, it just has to be we’re going to play our game, play our best and see how it goes. The substate game is always high intensity. Only a couple of us have played in that game so it’ll be good for all the people who have played to just make sure the other players aren’t nervous.”
Gehlen’s regional final opponent will be Newell-Fonda (26-10). The teams split their two meetings this season, both at the Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn tournament on Sept. 28. Newell-Fonda won the pool play match by 21-16 and 21-15 scores while the Jays took the two sets in the championship meeting 23-21 and 21-11. Gehlen has won 11 consecutive matches, 10 of which have been sweeps, since that loss to the Mustangs.