Photo by Rob Howe
Your Prep Sports
DURANT – The goal for every team is to be playing its best at the end of the season.
West Branch was able to reach that goal this season under first-year head coach Loren Hammerand.
Unfortunately for the Bears their latest postseason opponent was playing its best volleyball of the season at the right time too.
Fourth-ranked Wilton stopped West Branch one match shy of the state tournament downing the Bears 25-21, 25-22, 19-25, 25-13 in the Class 2A, Region 8 title game on Tuesday in Durant.
The win was the 14th in the last 15 matches for Wilton (35-3) which returned to the Class 2A state tournament for the second consecutive seasons.
Wilton will face seventh-ranked Clarion-Goldfield-Dows (29-6) in the 2A state quarterfinals on November 13 at 4 p.m. at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
“I would say we played really well leading up to the Tipton and West Liberty matches early in the season and then we kind of plateaued a little bit,” Grunder said. “Ever since that moment I believe we have followed that upward trajectory to where we want to be.”
Following impressive performances in back-to-back postseason wins over Alburnett and Cascade West Branch may have played its best match of the postseason on Tuesday.
The Bears had four players with at least eight kills while matching Wilton with 48 kills and led after the 19-point mark in two of the first three sets.
“I think we were finally getting it the last few weeks against Cascade we played really well and tonight we played well,” Hammerand said. “I think we were just kind of hitting our peak at the right time.”
Wilton remained unbeaten against Class 2A competition this season and eliminated West Branch from the playoffs for the second consecutive season with the win.
Sophomores Kelsey Drake and Ella Caffery combined for 38 over the Beavers’ 48 kills led by Drake’s match-high 25 kills.
“You can spy just a little bit on those two but they have just enough other weapons to be dangerous,” Hammerand said. “We did try to cheat a little bit on them because they have two hitters that having hitting efficiencies that are out of this world.”
Wilton won the regular season meeting between the two teams in straight sets back on September 12.
The Bears were up to the task in Tuesday’s rematch.
West Branch led the opening set 19-16 before Wilton scored eight of the next nine points to take a 24-20 lead.
Drake was the catalyst for the Beavers early.
The sophomore had five of her 10 first-set kills during the late 8-1 Beaver run including three consecutive kills that turned a 21-20 Wilton lead into a 24-20 advantage.
An ace block by Drake secured the first set win for Wilton.
West Branch trailed just 23-22 late in the second set but again Wilton made the plays late scoring the final two points on an error and a Mallory Lange ace serve.
“These girls they don’t get too high and they don’t get too low,” Grunder said. “They just keep chipping away and do a lot of great things.”
West Branch got back into the match with a dominating third set.
The Bears scored five unanswered points to take an 11-8 lead they would never give up.
West Branch led by as many as 10 at 23-13 after a Lexi Klinkkamer kill before Wilton made a late charge to cut the lead to 23-18.
Klinkkammer stopped the run with a kill and Delanynie secured the win with a kill.
“We talked about playing even in certain spots because they do have very strong rotations and we felt like we could have some runs but to their credit we weren’t able to really get too many,” Hammerand said. “That was kind of our game plan to play with them and when they weren’t in their strongest rotation to have a couple of runs because we felt like we are pretty solid all the way around.”
The fourth set was all Wilton from the outset.
Wilton built a 7-2 lead and never trailed again pulling away for a 25-13 win.
“In the fourth set they threw us a curve ball a few times,” Hammerand said. “They started doing things that we didn’t really see a lot of times. In the chess match they kind of got us a little bit in that last set.”
Drake had seven kills in the fourth set but Tayler Garvin and Alexa Garvin each had two kills in the fourth set.
Tayler Garvin finished with six and Alexa Garvin four kills to take some of the pressure off Caffery and Drake.
“Kelsey and Ella just know each other so well but then having Alexa and Tayler on the outside that is a great shot for us,” Grunder said. “They made some key plays, Mallory Lange on defense played some tough balls so I think we are in a good spot.”
Kaiya Luneckas had 15 kills and Klinkkamer added 14 for West Branch while Delaynie Luneckas and Jaclyn Bloem each had eight kills.
“Our girls were playing under a first-year coach and the first time we played them it felt like we didn’t have everything in yet,” Hammerand said. “We gave them our best shot tonight.”
Lexie Peak 0-1-0, Nicki Henson 0-2-0, Chloe Pence 0-2-0, Iva Senio 3-0-0, Lexi Klinkkamer 14-2-0, Delaynie Luneckas 8-0-1, Kaiya Luneckas 15-0-1, Jaclyn Bloem 8-0-1, Team 48-7-3.
Assists – Nicki Henson 34
Kelsey Drake 25-2-3, Tayler Garvin 6-3-0, Ella Caffery 13-2-3, Alexa Garvin 4-1-1, Mallory Lange 0-2-0, Team 48-10-7.
Assists – Ella Caffery 27, Kelsey Drake 14
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