CHARLES CITY, Iowa — The intimidation factor is gone.
Class 4A’s No. 2-rated Charles City played fearless volleyball, ending No. 4 Waverly-Shell Rock’s run of Northeast Iowa Conference dominance in front of packed house Tuesday night at Charles City High School.
The Comets (25-1) stormed through the opening two sets and recovered from a third set hiccup to defeat Waverly-Shell Rock, 25-17, 25-8, 20-25, 25-18. With the win, Charles City can become the first team other than W-SR to win a Northeast Iowa Conference regular season or tournament championship since the Comets accomplished that feat in 2007.
In the past, Charles City senior Jessie Sindlinger admits her team played tentative against the Go-Hawks. On this night, they came out swinging.
“Every other year we’ve come out and we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s Waverly. We need to play defensively,’” recalled Sindlinger who led her team with 21 kills and numerous scrappy digs. “We came out this year and we played offensively and it just made it a lot better outcome.”
It’s a confidence boost Comets’ coach Matt Johnson had been waiting to see.
Last year, Charles City defeated the Go-Hawks during an early-season tournament only to fall in the conference tournament and regular season matches. This year, they managed to back up another early season tournament win over W-SR with a second victory against the defending state champions.
“It’s kind of a constant struggle to get them to believe,” Johnson said. “I think maybe they were still a little skeptical. But the first game we came out and played well and stayed aggressive. When we backed off that aggressiveness, they got that third game and then we got aggressive again.”
W-SR head coach EaVon Woodin wasn’t surprised with the passion Charles City showed. She saw her Go-Hawks team (31-6) hesitant to take the big swings.
“They remember the last few years and we took it to them down at our place last year and won in three,” Woodin said. “They’ve been waiting for this match ever since last year. ... We’ve got to cut down on the errors and attack the ball. Play more aggressive and play to win rather than not to lose.”
W-SR was ambushed from the start. The Go-Hawks won just three points off their serve in the opening two sets, while Charles City served out four aces in that time frame.
Waverly-Shell Rock rallied by winning the first four points of set three, and outside hitter Mattie Gray carried the Go-Hawks with six of her team-high 18 kills in that frame. W-SR was unable to find a second weapon, however, as no other attacker surpassed eight kills.
In contrast, Charles City received a boost from outside hitter Jackie Foster who tallied 15 kills when Sindlinger was in the back row. The Comets’ two outside hitters combined for 11 kills in the fourth set as sophomore setter Hali Hillegas locked in on them to close out the match. Senior middle Torey Buenger added six kills, five blocks and three aces.
For Sindlinger, who already owns three state golf titles, this team win in her final home volleyball match isn’t likely to be soon forgotten.
“That was pretty awesome,” said Sindlinger, one of four Charles City seniors. “We came out really excited and then all our fans were cheering us on, and to come out on top was key.”
Added Johnson, “She’s a great kid and a great leader for our program. I don’t know if it’s the golf background or what it is, but she does a great job of making adjustments. They stuck a pretty big block out there against her lining their middle up as a right side. ... It took her about two swings to figure out what she needed to do and start getting better swings.”
W-SR and Charles City will meet again in the round-robin Northeast Iowa Conference Tournament Oct. 13 in New Hampton.
“It’s hard to beat a good team three times,” Sindlinger said. “But if we keep working hard and knowing what we have to do to keep on top, it’d be a great feeling.”