Prep volleyball: Rockets soar past Comets

Sep. 7—ELDON — It's one thing to the hunters.

The Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont volleyball team is getting used to life as the hunted.

The 12th-ranked (2A) Rockets secured their fourth straight win on Tuesday, sweeping Cardinal in South Central Conference action with a balanced attack pacing the way to a 25-11, 25-13, 25-13 victory over the Comets. EBF, looking to get back and beyond the semifinal round of the Class 2A State Volleyball Tournament this season, is continuing to bounce back after losing their first three matches of the season at the West Branch Invitational.

"It was good to play good competition right from the get-go, but it also wasn't considering the results," EBF junior Molly Shafer said. "We had to work out a few kinks considering it was our first time out on the court. Now, it feels like we're back on track.

"We have a lot of new people in different roles this year," Shafer's twin sister and normal setter, Kate, added. "It was kind of a learning moment to get everything figured out. We really missed out on the (Steve Hisel) quadrangular (at Fairfield) this year. That's usually where we figure things out."

That normal late-August season-opener for the Rocket volleyball team was called off due to excessive heat, forcing EBF to challenge themselves against top-10 opponents Marion and Iowa City Regina right off the bat. The Rockets were able to avenge a pool-play loss to Davenport North, got by Winfield-Mount Union to win the consolation bracket of the West Branch Tournament and picked up a SCC sweep against Centerville just a few nights later.

Tuesday night at Cardinal, however, was the first night that EBF started to look like the team with the potential to make a run at the program's first state championship. Molly Shafer led a balanced attack with 12 kills on 17-19 hitting while Ella Ray led the EBF defense with three of the eight Rocket blocks in the match.

"Getting blocks is a really important thing," Ray said. "Even if we can get a few touches to slow the ball down for the back row, we can get better passes to three open hitters."

Cardinal finished with six few hitting attempts per game on Tuesday. The Comets did their best to hang in defensively against the hard swings and hard serves of the 12th-ranked Rockets, collecting 26 digs including 10 by senior libero Brinlee Ostrander.

Matching the reigning SCC and 2A regional champions swing for swing, however, proved to be too much for the Comets. Cardinal finished 29-43 as a team at the net with 10 kills, including three by senior Emma Becker, finishing with just a third of the winners as the Rockets who produced 30 kills in the match.

"We'll see what Knoxville has to throw at us, but I would say right now that EBF is probably the strongest team we're going to face this year," Cardinal head volleyball coach Candice Major said. "The girls were confident in themselves and had a determination on not giving up. You have to have a mindset going in that you're facing a tough team with some great players on the other side of the net. You just have to swing where you can and get down as low as you can to keep the ball alive."

Emarie Finch got a pair of blocks for the Comets against the relentless EBF attack while producing a pair of ace serves. EBF countered with 10 aces from four different players, including four aces as part of a perfect 15-15 service night from Kaylee Helm.

"We were relaxed, which allowed us to pass and serve better than we have been doing lately allowing for a strong offense," EBF head volleyball coach Gladys Genskow said. "It was great to see the numerous options allowing for everyone to get involved. It was an enjoyable match to see the girls bring out their strengths throughout the night."

Cardinal (1-5, 0-2 SCC) will return to SCC action at Chariton next Tuesday. EBF, meanwhile, will host a showdown with No. 10 (4A) Knoxville that could determine the SCC volleyball championship on Tuesday after challenging themselves in the Metro Volleyball Classic hosted by Southeast Polk on Saturday.

"Communication is still a key factor we are working on in all aspects of our game," Genskow said. "I thought we took care of the ball better and I'm hoping they keep that focus going into a tough tournament.

"We will gear up for this weekend by serving aggressively to score and passing better to the target. Once we improve on that aspect our offense takes over."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.