Hinton’s Kovarna sets up her team for success
HINTON — High school setters from small-town Iowa aren’t often six feet tall.
Ashlyn Kovarna spent perhaps the most important match of her life playing near the net. It’s a place you won’t commonly find a setter but when you’re tall, you’re athletic and you see an offensive chance developing for yourself, like a push or a tip to surprise the defense, you take it, then look for your teammate the next time the volleyball crosses the net.
Kovarna sparkled, providing nine kills and 35 assists as fourth-ranked Hinton reached the Class 2A state volleyball tournament for the first time since 2013 with a 25-21, 25-21, 25-14 sweep over No. 15 Ridge View in the Region 2 championship match at Cherokee High School on Wednesday.
She dished passes to five different Blackhawks, topped by Bailey Boeve and Carlene Hicklin, who slammed 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
A junior who has played for teams that have gone 46-10 the last two seasons, Kovarna sees aspects shorter players at her position don’t always notice.
“Honestly, I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “Whatever my hitters need, I try to give them the best opportunity, then let them go and have fun at the net.”
And wow, was Hinton having fun at the net that night, sporting .306 kill efficiency. Hicklin, who reached double digits for the first time all season, hit .473. Boeve, the state’s third-most productive freshman with 300 kills, hit .357. Avery Burgad’s five kills translated into a .294 percentage.
Then there was Kovarna, hitting a robust .571 for a squad that has topped .300 twice in a current four-match winning streak that they’ll take into Tuesday’s 4 p.m. first-round match at Coralville’s Xtream Arena against No. 5 Denver.
“They all bring the same confidence that I put into the set,” said Kovarna. “I know they can get a decent kill or a decent hit off of it.”
Hinton co-head coach Kate Ortegren had a better answer in terms of what Kovarna sees on the court.
“She has a bigger window,” said Ortegren. “When she comes up to set, she is also way up there that she can tip it down or push it somewhere she might see on the court. She has very good court awareness, knows where the defense is at on the other side and where to put the ball.”
Kovarna is a setter and a right side hitter for the second year in a row. A year ago, she shared setting duties with Sara Schoenrock. This season, she’s doing both on her own and thriving. In fact, Hinton’s hitting .298 after sporting a .207 mark in 2021. Fourteen times, the War Eagle Conference runner-up hit .300 or better which included seven matches in league action.
“She has this tendency of being the quarterback of the team,” said Ortegren. “What we wanted in our offense was someone the ball was going through and it was her every time. She is so smart and so athletic that we trust she is going to make the right play.”
Kovarna began to have feelings that Hinton was going to have a season like this during the summer. The Blackhawks took second place at the University of South Dakota Tournament, then won the Northwestern College Tournament.
Hinton was the state’s last undefeated squad to suffer a loss, doing so against WEC champion Unity Christian, who will join the Blackhawks at state in the 3A bracket.
Hitters like Hicklin (144 kills) were back from last year’s 20-8 squad that fell to Western Christian in the Class 2A Region 2 semifinals along with her junior classmates Burgad (104) and Gabbie Friessen (144) plus senior Natalie Junck (83).
Hinton added Boeve to the mix, the freshman who has topped .400 a whopping 20 times and has had 19 double-digit kill matches.
“We all had this drive,” said Kovarna. “We all competed so hard at every practice. We were all family. And you know what? It’s not over yet. State is going to be so fun. It’s the first experience for any of us on this team. It’s going to be an amazing experience. We’re going to go out and have fun like we normally do. We’ll be fine.”