No. 2 Lady Jays take down MMCRU in regional semifinal
LE MARS — Gehlen Catholic’s Tim Dreckman Memorial Gym was packed for Monday’s Class 1A regional semifinal contest between the No. 2 ranked Lady Jays and MMCRU. In front of the raucous crowd, the Jays picked up a 3-0 win to reach the regional final.
“It’s so much fun to play in these atmospheres. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Gehlen senior Lauren Heying said. “We’ve got the best fans, the best crowd. I love playing in a packed gym. It gets the heart moving, it gets everything going.”
Back-to-back ace serves from Cadence Goebel gave Gehlen a 6-5 lead in the first set, and they never relinquished control the rest of the set. Kills from Heying and Larissa Sitzmann followed and an attacking error by the Royals forced an MMCRU timeout.
Gehlen got up to a 16-8 advantage before the visitors started chipping away at the lead, with Emily Dreckman and Ellie Hilbrands leading the way. Dreckman got a couple blocks, Hilbrands added a kill and then Dreckman rattled off three of her team-high 15 kills in quick succession along with an ace serve to pull the score to within one at 18-17 which forced a Gehlen timeout.
While the Jays couldn’t completely stop MMCRU’s two hitters who had all but one of their team’s 24 kills, they were able to slow them down and force them into some hitting mistakes as along with their kills, they also had 16 errors.
“If Ellie was in the front, we focused on maybe me cheating a bit to the outside to get a good solid block up on her,” junior Miyah Whitehead said. “If Emily was in the front row, we focused on getting two people up in the middle. When they weren’t in the front row, we just took advantage of it and tried to score a lot.”
Sitzmann gave the Jays some breathing room out of the timeout with consecutive kills before Hilbrands sent a push to the back corner to pull back to within a 20-18 score. That would be as close as the Royals could get as Gehlen scored the final five points of the frame to close out a 25-18 win.
The second set was close most of the way through. After trailing 7-6, Gehlen scored the next four points, the last of which was a kill off the block for Aurora Goebel, one of her five kills in six attempts in the match. That kill led to a timeout for the Royals. MMCRU slowly turned the tide, getting out to a 19-16 lead with a pair of Gehlen errors leading to a timeout. The momentum turned back in favor of the Jays after the timeout as they tied the score at 22 with a kill from Whitehead, one of her team-best 10 in the match.
“I thought we were well-rounded all over,” Whitehead said as after her 10 kills, the team got eight from Heying and five apiece from Sitzmann and the two Goebels. “Everybody was getting set. We’re just a well-rounded team.”
The Jays added the next two points after that to get to set point. The Royals staved off the loss for one point, but a subsequent net serve from Dreckman gave the Jays a 25-23 win.
Heying said her team had confidence they could come from behind for the win and doing so boosted their confidence even further.
“We knew we could do it. We knew we could pull together as a team and we did,” Heying said. “That’s something that I cherish about these girls is they pull together when we’re down and we can pull out of those ruts.”
Gehlen carried the momentum from the end of the second set as they came out strong in the third set, scoring the first five points and 10 of the first 11. It was a deficit the Royals could not come back from.
“It’s a game of runs and they just got more runs than we did the first two sets and then obviously the third set we just came out really flat,” MMCRU Head Coach Heather Youde said. “We knew that we had to make fewer mistakes than they did and unfortunately, those unforced errors were huge in this game. They earned points obviously, but I thought we gave them too many free points.”
Gehlen went on to claim the match with a 25-11 score in the third set. Jays Head Coach Mike Meyer, who returned to the sideline after missing the team’s last game, said it was a pretty good match for his team.
“It was a pretty solid night for us again, especially in the first and third sets,” Meyer said. “We hit with a lot of balance again, and we’re quite efficient as we hit .333 for the match. Aurora probably had her finest match of the season tonight. We served a good percent (93%) but I thought we could have served a little tougher as our ace totals were a bit down. Our ball control was not quite as good as I’d like and the fact that we had six players register an assist that wasn’t our setter, this is certainly something that will have to improve before the regional final.”
MMCRU finishes the season with a 16-11 record. The team will graduate eight seniors from their roster. Those include Ellie Reuter, Autum Bonnstetter, Regan Peters, Kirsten Letsche, Taylor Harpenau, Makenzie Meyer, Dreckman and Hilbrands. Youde said it will be a tough group to replace.
“They’re just a great group of girls just all around, not just on the volleyball court,” Youde said. “It’s going to be really hard to let them go.”
Gehlen (24-5) advances to play Akron-Westfield (18-7) in Wednesday’s regional final contest to be played at Bishop Heelan. The Jays won the regular season meeting by a 3-1 score in War Eagle Conference action.
“We just need to carry this energy to Wednesday,” Whitehead concluded.