DIKE -- Three years removed from an outright conference championship, one of the state's most dominant volleyball programs refused to get rattled Thursday night on its home court.
Class 2A's No. 1-ranked Dike-New Hartford recovered from an opening-set loss and secured its first perfect run through the North Iowa Cedar League East since 2014 with a four-set victory over 3A's No. 3 Waterloo Columbus, 22-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-19, in a full gym on the final night of league play.
It was a major goal accomplished for a defending state champion D-NH program (38-3, 8-0 NICL East) that finished runner-up to Union a year ago and shared the title with Wapsie Valley and Sumner-Fredericksburg in 2015.
"It feels pretty good, especially winning this game," D-NH outside hitter Baylee Petersen said after leading her team with 17 kills. "We knew it was going to be tough coming in, and they came ready to play, and it just made it that much better to know it was a good game."
Waterloo Columbus (30-8, 7-1) make the initial statement in its first bid for a NICL East title since joining the league in 2013. Anna Sinnott closed out the opening set with three consecutive kills during a 5-0 run for a Sailors' team that had everything clicking early, and became the only league member to take a set from D-NH this season.
"Columbus came out and they were firing on all cylinders," D-NH coach Diane Harms said. "They had a lot more energy and they were executing better than we were. We just were a step slow. We talked about how we had to step up and match their energy and execute."
D-NH didn't get rattled.
The Wolverines cut their attack errors down from eight in set one to one in set two, while flipping the serve and receive edge with more aggressive serves as five different players combined for seven aces.
Baylee Petersen pointed towards middles such as Carlee Dove and Amber Rickert getting more touches and blocks as another factor that led to the victory.
When Columbus cut an 11-6 deficit to 21-20 in set two, Baylee Petersen landed an offspeed attack out of the back row and her twin sister, Sydney, followed with an ace before Rickert closed out the set with one of her 14 kills. The Wolverines went up 11-3 and cruised through set three before overcoming a 13-9 deficit and closing set four on a 7-2 run.
"We always talk in practice how if we get down in games or anything we always have to try and keep our heads and stay calm and just focus on the next point," Baylee Petersen said, addressing her team's response.
Sinnott finished with 18 kills and Avery Kroll added 15, while Sydney Schultz was an impact player on defense for a Columbus team that will look to make another big postseason run in Class 3A after reaching the 2A state finals a year ago.
"I think really it just is a matter of fire and just playing with confidence," Columbus coach Hanna Nuss said. "There's no reason that we come into Dike and act like it's a surprise that we a took a first game off of them. That's where I feel we kind of just let up, and gave up on that confidence which we had been talking about all week. We just need to find that confidence and build on it and take risks and play."
Harms also used the word confidence as a key for her team nearing the postseason. D-NH had defensive specialist Allie Aalderks step up and play some front row after an injury to the team's right side during the JV match. Jill Eilderts was also inserted into the lineup.
"A competitive match like this is great," Harms said. "It gets the nerves out for a few of the younger players and you learn to play with confidence and not to get tentative, because when you're tentative you tend to make more mistakes."
In addition to the conference title, the win capped a successful senior night for the Petersen twins along with setter Madison Hedges, Aalderks and Courtney Bolhuis.
"We've a lot of great players go through and this senior class has done a lot of great things," Harms said. "They're great people on and off the volleyball court so we're really going to miss them next year."