CEDAR RAPIDS — As if a year wait wasn’t long enough, Union Community’s much-anticipated return to the state volleyball tournament went off a few minutes later than scheduled Wednesday morning when the U.S. Cellular Center’s lights didn’t come on following the National Anthem.
Once the match started, it was top-ranked Union that played lights out volleyball, ending No. 14 Osage’s breakthrough postseason run with a sweep in Class 3A’s quarterfinals, 25-19, 25-20, 25-20.
Union is playing in the program’s sixth state tournament over the last seven years with a corps of six seniors in the main rotation determined to end their prep careers on a high note.
“It’s definitely a lot of emotions everywhere,” Union’s senior outside hitter Megan Hudson said. “It’s great to finally get back to the state tournament and having a great win that first game.”
As has become routine throughout Union’s 39-4 season, Hudson and fellow senior Peyton Parker rotated in for each other from back to front row and imposed their will on the opposing defense. Hudson finished with 21 kills and Parker added 17 at an efficient .536 hitting percentage.
While Hudson’s leaping ability can be tough to stop, she says Parker has quicker arm speed and is more of a diverse shot-maker. Senior setter Maggie Driscol finished with 39 assists Wednesday and has found comfort working with her experienced attackers, who create a competitive practice environment when they go head-to-head during drills.
“Being outsides, we talk about what’s open, if a tip is open,” Hudson said. “We have a connection that way. With our setter, too. We are totally two different players, but we run things the same way.”
Against Osage, Union never trailed in set one and used an early 7-1 run take control of the second set. The Knights fell behind 7-1 in set three before Parker helped her team pull away down the stretch with a powerful kill prior to a seven-point service run that gave Union a 21-14 advantage.
“I just had to get the ball in,” Parker said of the service series. “I was in the back row and I knew Megan would put it down and get us that lead back.”
Osage coach Andie Olson felt it was a valuable learning experience for her team with just one senior on its roster. The variety of weapons within the Green Devils’ balanced attack were often unavailable as Union kept Osage out of system. Brenna Jacobs led the way with seven kills. Sydney Midlang and Jessica Malecek each had five.
“It’s hard when Megan (Hudson) jumps over your block,” Olson said. “We prepared for that the best you can prepare for someone going over your block. Their outsides were who we needed to key on, and we tried to get our middles going to get them out of system more, but they did a good job getting the ball to their hitters no matter what.”
Up next, Union will face a Mount Vernon team responsible for its most recent loss prior to the Knights’ current 17-match win streak. The semifinal is set for 2 p.m. today.
“I don’t think that was our best volleyball, but I thought for the most part we were pretty well locked in on what we needed to do,” Union coach Brian Jesse said. “Once we got our outside hitters swinging, we picked it up a little bit. Our defense at times was pretty good, but I know we can play better defense than we did today. Hopefully we’re saving the best for later in the week.”