WOODWARD — All the Woodward-Granger volleyball team did this year was finish 29-9, falling in a Class 2A Regional Semifinal to seventh-ranked Grundy Center, who improved to 29-9 with the win.
The loss to the Spartans was the first of the season to a school the same size as the 2A Hawks, whose other losses were 3A schools (three times), 4A schools (twice) and 5A schools (twice), with the remaining loss to Quincy, Il, who would rank as a 5A in Iowa.
Along the way the team won their fourth WCC title in five years, a stretch that includes the loss of one set in two years.
And yet the Hawks received no love from the IGHSAU, as they were inexplicably unranked all season and then forced to drive 80 miles for a regional contest against a team playing 30 miles from home while a few of the 3A brackets featured teams the Hawks would have likely dominated.
“It doesn’t do us any good to complain about it,” W-G head coach Meg Jackson (259-133 in 14 seasons) said of the constant oversight of her team. “We are just going to try and play the hardest non-conference schedule we can make and hope someone notices. All we can do is play at the highest level we can — that is something we do have control over.”
The Hawks were coming off a 2014 season that saw the team finish 31-9, but with only two starters back for 2015 Jackson admitted to some concerns.
“Right away over the summer my thoughts were ‘We have lost a lot of key players, how well will we fill in the holes?'” she said, “but very quickly my expectations went up. Next year we will have everyone back, and there are going to be some real battles between some talented girls for playing time, and that is the kind of problem a coach loves to have.”
Junior Olivia McCune set a school record for blocks in a season this year with 68 and needs just 11 more to break Alison Neal’s 2004-2006 mark of 157 blocks for a career.
Juniors Bree Lesch and Mary Hansen are in a running battle for most career aces, a mark Lesch owns at 205, with Hansen at 200, just two off the old standard of 202 set back in 1988-1989 by Teresa Anderson.
Junior libero Kara Bodensteiner will return to join Lesch in the back row, giving Jackson what she called “a killer serve-receive combo” that yielded few aces on the season and helped set up a potent offensive attack.
“Our kill efficiency went up considerably in the second half of the season,” Jackson noted. “That enabled us to move the ball around and have more power spread across the board.”
The crashing of the quikstats.com website has temporarily denied access to the entire state for statistics for all sports, but Jackson noted the increased efficiency and strong play of sophomore setter Alyssa Bice, the solid serving of junior Riley Kirton and the contributions of sophomores Anna Nelson, Ashley Gates and Kaycee Major as well.
“A lot of girls stepped up for us and we will need them to do so again next year,” the coach said. “These girls love volleyball and I have no doubt that they are going to be working hard in the off-season.”
Despite the gaudy numbers posted by the team and individual players and the obvious respect the Hawks have earned from their opponents, Jackson said she was still searching for an increase in mental toughness.
“We don’t have one or two girls with the kind of personality that just takes over in a leadership role — that is just not who we are, and that is OK,” she stated. “What we must do is not be shy about playing with some swagger and some confidence. We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot, but we want it to be that way.
“We have chosen to go to the North Scott tourney and others and to try and play as tough a non-conference schedule as we can,” Jackson said. “Our girls expect to beat the bigger schools and are disappointed when we don’t and I like to see that in us. That is the kind of competitive streak I want to see from us every time, even when we are playing teams we know we should beat — there is never a good excuse for not playing the best you can.”
With the quality of weapons Jackson will have at her disposal next season that should not be a worry.
“I know our girls wish next season would start next week,” she said. “They would probably want to play all year if they could.”