Eighth-ranked Woodward-Granger targeting state tourney

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Woodward-Granger volleyball is, front row from left: Vikoriya Olalege, Bree Lesch, Kara Bodensteiner, Olivia McCune, Mary Hansen and Riley Kirton. Second row, from left: Briley Bermel, Kaycee Major, Marrissa Pasker, Alissa Smeltzer and Anna Tague. Back row, from left: Aubrey Mescher, Ashlyn Soelberg, Emma Drake, Julie Pitman, Alyssa Bice and Ashley Gales.

WOODWARD — Nothing short of a state tournament appearance is going to go over very well with the Woodward-Granger volleyball team, and for good reason.

The Hawks were 29-9 last year, losing to No. 7 Grundy Center in the regional semifinals, their only loss to a school their own size. So dominant in the area is W-G that the closest school, geographically, in the Class 2A preseason rankings is Montezuma, well over an hour away.

W-G has owned the WCC, finishing 40-2 with four titles in the last five years. They are 16-0 in the last two seasons in conference play over that stretch, during which they have lost one set.

“We are always going to be the target game for just about every team we play,” 15-year head coach Meg Jackson said. “That is just fine with us. We feel we have an edge when we walk into the gym based on our tradition and are not making any excuses for it.

“That said, we have not been to the state tournament since 2011, and it isn’t sitting well with us,” she said. “These girls know they are talented enough to play at state and I believe they are dead-set on making sure it happens. I know that is setting our goals pretty high, but these girls have worked very hard to be able to do just that, and they deserve to think of themselves as deserving.”

The Hawks will return all six starters and will have six seniors on the squad when they open their season Saturday at the day-long Bondurant-Farrar tourney. W-G will then host WCV Tuesday in their home opener.

Should anyone think they Hawks are just about their seniors, it must be noted the junior varsity was 7-1 and the freshmen 7-0-1 in WCC play last year.

Senior Olivia McCune set a school record for blocks in a season with 68 last year and has 147 in her career. Abby Hansen’s school standard of 160 should fall early in the season.¬†McCune had 329 kills (3.43 per set) while serving 297-of-319 (.931) with 46 aces and also had 108 digs.

Ace serves are a W-G specialty, as the team led 2A with 315 last year, with their 3.21 per set clip fourth-best in the class. Those numbers were good enough to fourth-best and ninth-best among all five classes.

Seniors Bree Lesch and Mary Hansen are in a running battle for the school record for career aces. Lesch holds the lead with 205, with Hansen at 200. The old mark of 202 was set by Teresa Anderson in 1989.

Hansen has 247 kills and served 204-247-73 with 373 assists and 158 digs, with Lesch tallying 222 kills, serving 402-438-71 and making 428 digs.

Other key contributors include juniors Kaycee Major (253-281-38, 199 digs), Alyssa Bice (185-210-25, 451 assists, 123 digs) and Julie Pitman (32 blocks). Senior Riley Kirton was 123-139-24 behind the line, with senior libero Kara Bodensteiner 192-212-28 with 475 digs.

Lesch and Bodensteiner give Jackson — who is 259-133 (.661) with the Hawks — a back row combination few teams can rival.

“They really do stand out,” the coach said. “They anticipate very well and cover a lot of ground, but the biggest thing is they then make good passes when they get to the ball. It is very hard to ace them or get a service-winner off of them, and it really sets up our offense.”

Kirton, Jackson said “Is our spot-server. I call out an area and she hits is every time.”

Hansen is a dynamic player who excels everywhere on the floor, while Pitman and Ashley Gales have, in Jackson’s words “really started to come on.”

Despite all the gaudy numbers and promise, Jackson worries if her team can consistently play with the passion necessary to make a deep run in the postseason.

“We are working on developing a whole different attitude, a different mindset,” she said. “We are confident that we are good, but sometimes we don’t seem comfortable with it. We know we can be good, but sometimes doubt if we can be great, and we have to take that next step.

“It is not unsportsmanlike to be as dominant as you can be,” Jackson added. “Every team is dangerous and any team could have that ‘one night’ and ruin your dreams. If you can pound someone, you do it. We play some teams where I know the girls think they can just show up and that will be enough and honestly, in some cases, that is true.”

However, Jackson was quick to state that such a cavalier attitude will not carry the team to the heights they have set for themselves.

“You have to always be sharp, always,” she said. “The girls get worked up to beat the bigger schools we play in many of our tournaments and don’t like it if they don’t play well. They need to approach every match that way, because it is dangerous to have to suddenly try and turn on a ‘killer’ instinct — you have to have it all along. If they want to hang another banner in the gym that is what it is going to take — total effort, every time. They have the talent. If they want it bad enough, they can have it. We will see …”

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