Road to state doesn't come easy for area's favorites

Union photo by Andy Krutsinger

WACO's Layney Graber (1) sends the ball over the net with New London's Sophie Reighard (9) going up for a block during WACO's three-set win over the Tigers earlier this month.
Union photo by Andy Krutsinger WACO's Layney Graber (1) sends the ball over the net with New London's Sophie Reighard (9) going up for a block during WACO's three-set win over the Tigers earlier this month.

It’s not easy to get wins on volleyball courts in Southeast Iowa, especially for the area’s small schools. Southeast Iowa is home to the Southeast Iowa Super Conference, afterall, and the SEISC is home to four teams ranked in the top 10 of their class.

After a grueling season that saw one of the toughest SEISC battles in recent memory, the teams can now turn their attention towards regionals and a shot at the big prize: A spot in next month’s state volleyball tournament.

When the dust settled this season, Mediapolis and Van Buren stood tall as SEISC North and SEISC South division champions. The Bullettes lost just one game this year and the Warriors lost four.

The problem: Both teams are in Class 2A, which would lead some to believe there would only be room for one at the state tournament in Cedar Rapids. The solution: Putting them in different regional brackets.

Van Buren won’t have to go through Mediapolis to get to the promised land. Instead, they will have to hold serve against a region that holds no other ranked teams. Van Buren is the No. 1 seed, ranked eighth in Class 2A. Only three other teams in their region have winning records.

That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing, however. In fact, the Warriors will get tested right away, by another area team that has proven its worth this season. Van Buren will open up regional play with Cardinal on Monday, Oct. 28.

The Comets are just two games over .500, at 15-13, but they’ve given Van Buren plenty of trouble this season. In their first matchup in Eldon, the Warriors worked hard to sweep the comets in a South Division matchup. In a rare high school volleyball moment, the second set went above 30 points, going back-and-forth the whole way until Van Buren pulled out a 32-30 win.

Less than two weeks later, the Comets threatened to upset Van Buren at the Moravia tournament. Cardinal even won the first set, 25-17, but Van Buren escaped by winning the next two sets 25-15 and 15-8.

If the Warriors can get by Cardinal again, they’ll have to win two more games, both against relatively unknown teams. The most likely scenerio would have Van Buren hosting 16-7 Pleasantville in the regional semifinals and 18-6 Nodaway Valley in the final.

Mediapolis, the second-ranked team in Class 2A, is in the same region as No. 10 Hudson. Only one Union coverage area team is in that region. Pekin will host Danville on Tuesday, Oct. 22, with the winner playing at Mediapolis in the quarterfinals.

Another hotly contested regional kicking off on Tuesday is Class 1A Region 8, and it contains some of the best teams in the area.

There will be a full slate of games on Tuesday including Winfield-Mt. Union hosting Burlington Notre Dame, New London hosting Hillcrest Academy, Keota hosting Tri-County and WACO hosting Highland.

New London is the second seed in the region. The Tigers, ranked No. 10 in Class 1A, could possibly meet top-seeded and eighth-ranked Holy Trinity in the regional finals. The two teams have already played twice this year, with New London winning at home in the regular season and HTC beating the Tigers in SEISC pool play.

New London and HTC are normally shoe ins to get to the regional final, but this is a year unlike any other, and there is major upset potential in the Southeastern most region.

Lurking on New London’s side of the bracket, among others, are the WACO Warriors. WACO not only defeated New London in their regular season matchup, but they swept them, 25-22, 25-23, 25-21. The Tigers did get their revenge four days later, beating WACO 21-16, 21-10 at the Davis County tournament, but that three-set upset will surely be stuck in the minds of both team’s fans if the two face each other in the regional semifinals.

The big scare for Holy Trinity comes in the quarterfinals. Luckily for HTC, it’s two biggest threats have to play each other in the opener. W-MU and Notre Dame will fight for the right to take on the favorites when they showdown in Winfield on Oct. 22.

W-MU took a huge hit earlier this year when star hitter Jenna Buffington went down with injury, but they’ve been featured in the Class 1A top 15 this season. Although currently unranked, W-MU still poses quite the threat. The Wolves may be sliding, but they proved they are still dangerous by hanging with Mediapolis earlier this week, falling 27-25, 25-21, 25-13.

But don’t think that means HTC will be swinging their red W-MU pom poms on Tuesday night. Notre Dame may be below .500, but they sure didn’t look like it when they faced HTC in the Mt. Pleasant tournament. The Nikes defeated the Crusaders 23-25, 25-21, 15-13, en route to a perfect 4-0 tournament record.

The 2019 season has seen its shares of ups and downs for favorites nad underdogs alike, but with seasons hanging in the balance, the best may bet yet to come.