OTTUMWA — With the New London football team still alive in the playoffs and the Danville-New London cross-country teams both advancing to state, there was just one piece left in the Tigers’ puzzle. On Wednesday night, the volleyball team stamped that piece in with authority.
The 11th-ranked Tigers knocked off fifth-ranked and previously undefeated Southeast Warren off in three sets (25-18, 25-22, 26-24) to punch their ticket to the Class 1A state tournament for the first time since 2014.
‘This is the moment you live for,” said senior hitter Marah Hartrick. “This is what you dream of.”
The win polished off a perfect regional run. New London played nine sets and they won all nine. Though the Tigers trailed by six points in the last two sets, they never gave in and never let the Warhawks take a game.
The Tigers controlled much of the first set, leading by 10 points, at 23-13, and haunting a Southeast Warren run with back-to-back points to end it, including a game-winning block by Sofie Reighard.
In the second, New London stormed back from a 19-13 deficit to tie it at 21-21. Keaura Williams earned the 22nd point with a big block at the net, and had two kills for the next two Tigers points, and Emma Nye dropped an ace on the Warhawks for a three-point victory.
In the third, the Tigers trailed by the same score, 19-13, but once again stormed back to tie it at 22-22. New London took the lead 24-23 on a kill by freshman Sophie Malott. Both teams traded points to give the Tigers a 25-24 advantage, and then Malott came through again, pasting the match-winning kill just inside the line to seal the victory.
“She’s a great kid, and she doesn’t play like a freshman,” said New London coach Maureen Heath. “We’re not afraid to give her the ball.”
When the final kill dropped, the celebration was on.
“I was watching the ball, and I didn’t know if it was going to be in or out,” said Reighard, a senior who was in her first game back from quarantine. “I saw it land inside of it, and my head just went black. I was jumping up in the air, and then Keaura came and hugged me.”
This was the third time New London had made the regional final. The Tigers came up short in 2018 and again in 2019.
“I really thought we were going to make it last year, but things happen,” said senior libero Kyra Linkin. “We definitely pushed harder this year, and we know what it feels like to lose, so we definitely didn’t want that to happen again.”
Reighard, Williams, Hartrick and Natalie Burden co-led the team with seven kills each. Malott finished with six. Emma Nye had two, and Paris Wilka had one. Elly Manning dished out 14 assists, and Aliyah Christensen finished with 13.
Linkin led the back row again with 19 digs. Manning and Christensen had 11 apiece. Reighard had four blocks, and Wilka finished with three.
New London earned the No. 6 seed in next week’s state tournament in Cedar Rapids. The Tigers will play No. 3 seed Gehlen Catholic in an 8 p.m. game on Tuesday night.