CEDAR RAPIDS | Determined as ever, Western Christian fired the first shot. Yet, Dike-New Hartford once again rose to the occasion.
The youthful volleyball prodigies who played instrumental roles during the Wolverines' past two Class 2A state championships have matured into upperclassmen who know how to finish strong.
Such was the case Friday afternoon as Dike-New Hartford once again battled back from an early deficit to prevail in a third consecutive state final with Western Christian inside the U.S. Cellular Center, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-20.
"Everyone just played great," D-NH senior middle Ashley Dumler said. "The first game we lost we knew we had to come back and play harder and we did. We were down, but we came back and we fought the whole time.
"Good competition always brings out the best in us. We love playing and you just couldn't ask for anything more."
Dike-New Hartford (45-1) has now won 99 consecutive matches over Iowa opponents, surging to a No. 3 national ranking by PrepVolleyball.com. Its lone loss came to the nation's No. 1 St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kan.
D-NH junior outside hitter Briana Weber captained her third consecutive all-tournament team as she finished the championship match with 15 kills and 16 digs. Junior setter Rachel Koop returned to the all-tournament team after tallying 42 assists, six kills and a team-high 18 digs in the finals, while 6-foot-5 junior Brooke Morgan also was honored after finishing with a match-high 16 kills and four blocks to best her 6-foot-5 counterpart Haley Moss of Western.
Yet, it wasn't just Dike-New Hartford's big guns that came to play on this night. Dumler finished with nine kills on .533 hitting and Lizzy Blough added seven timely kills to go with 16 digs.
"It's a total team effort and we get contributions from everyone," D-NH head coach Diane Harms said. "Everyone points to Brooke and Bre, but Lizzy is just as capable of a hitter and Ashley and Sadie (Eden) did a nice job for us too. They step up and make things happen when they get their opportunities."
After Western Christian (45-3) broke free from an 11-all tie with a five-point run to take set one, Dumler contributed two key blocks during a 5-0 go-ahead run in set two. Western briefly went up 20-19, but Morgan recorded two kills during a 5-0 run to set point before a quick tip by Koop ended the frame.
D-NH trailed by as many as 15-9 in set three but Blough, a junior outside hitter also instrumental in the team's previous two title runs, landed three consecutive kills to complete a five-point run and give the Wolverines a 21-20 edge. Western pulled ahead again, 22-21, but D-NH finished with the final four points capped by a Morgan kill.
D-NH then capped off the battle by pulling away from a 12-all tie in set four. Dumler terminated her team's second match point.
"I thought we were very evenly matched," Harms said. "Our teams were similar and it would just come down to who had the momentum at the right time and was able to make that play as the sets were winding down. We were able to keep that momentum at the time that it was critical. ... Our girls didn't lose focus. They just kept playing hard and going after every ball and trying to make things happen."
For Western Christian coach Tammi Veerbeek, it was another hard fought loss. After defeating Dike-New Hartford in three state finals (2003, 2007, 2008), the Western program with 13 championships since 1989 has now dropped three straight to their 2A rivals.
"I'd say last year and this year's team was better than some of our state championship teams," Veerbeek said. "Not to take away anything from those state championship teams, they were great as well, but it's the class we fall in. Dike-New Hartford is a giant and they're very, very fundamentally sound."
Certainly a tradition of volleyball success has generated immense support from the communities of Dike and New Hartford. Following this year's championship quest, it was the D-NH volleyball team that made sure to remember a former member of their community.
Huddled around the championship trophy, the Wolverine players let out a series of loud chants of P-F-T -- Play For Tate. Tate Johnson was a 9-year-old boy from Dike killed following a 2011 all-terrain vehicle rollover accident prior to the volleyball team's first title during its current run of championships.
"We always remember him," Dumler said. "We'll never forget him. He was always there at our games and we really liked him. ... We love going out there and playing for him."