Presently, the Dike-New Hartford volleyball team is the best in Class 2A.
In the future, that title may be how to best describe the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont Rockets.
Someday, maybe. Just not on Thursday.
The team that denied Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont a trip to state last year ended the Rockets’ second-ever tournament run on Thursday.
Just as they did in last year’s regional final, Dike-New Hartford swept past the Rockets on the way to the Class 2A State Volleyball championship match.
One key difference this year, however. Even though the Wolverines did earn a 25-14, 25-19, 25-12 victory, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont made the defending state champs work much harder this year before succumbing to a talented, tall group of Dike-New Hartford spikers.
All the way through the third and final game, the Rockets proved they belonged in that elite class of teams that can call themselves state semifinalists.
“We told the girls that, no matter what happens, they just need to keep pushing through and keep working for each point,” Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont coach Gladys Genskow said. “Obviously, the better team won today, but we hopefully can keep moving forward.”
Sophomore Karlie Taylor capped her first state tournament with 10 more kills, leaving the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont attacker with 43 to claim the honor of having the most kills in the first two rounds of the 2A tournament. Unlike Wednesday, when Taylor hammered home 33 in Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont’s first-ever state win, each winner the sophomore earned against Dike-New Hartford was hard to get with the presence of 6-5 junior Brooke Morgan on the other side of the attack.
“They are such a frustrating team to play against,” Taylor said. “Brooke Morgan is so lankly and she’s hard to hit around. She hardly has to jump and her elbows are at the net. You don’t see that often in volleyball at all.”
“When you’ve got a tall girl like that, it’s definitely going to make it tough,” Genskow added. “We just tried to get whatever we could against her.”
Early on, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont was getting its fair share of points despite Morgan’s presence. The Rockets and Wolverines traded four ties as the two teams went right at each other with Dike-New Hartford having to grind out an early 7-6 lead against a fired-up Rockets’ squad.
“We wanted to go out and take the first set,” Taylor said. “We think that’s a major confidence booster for us and a downer for the other team.”
But the more times Eddyville-Bl;akesburg-Fremont had to adjust and account for Morgan, the more openings began to develop for the Wolverines to exploit. The Rockets’ attempts to fire back instead ended with balls missing wide or being blocked by Dike-New Hartford, who gradually pulled away for a 25-14 opening-game win.
“I think we just got tired. It’s hard keeping up with them,” Taylor said. “They’re so fast paced and they’re hard hitters. Even their back row isn’t lacking for talent.”
While Morgan may have been the tallest player and most imposing force at the net for Dike-New Hartford, it was 5-10 junior Briana Weber who had the most winners for the Wolverines. Weber crushed home 12 of her match-high 17 kills in the opening two games and more than doubled Morgan in total attacks, going 30-38 hitting to Morgan’s 11-14 effort.
“It’s an extremely difficult challenge to defend them,” Alexander said of Dike-New Hartford. “They can attack the net from almost anywhere.”
The total gradual moment shift began to hit a downhill pace in game two. Dike-New Hartford jumped out an earlier lead against the valiant Rockets and appeared as if they would cruise to a 2-0 lead by opening a 19-10 lead in game two.
That’s when the Rockets showed great pride and skill of their own. Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont began to rally thanks to a kill from Tasha Alexander, blocks from McKinley Moore and Sadie Baugher, and a few surprising misses from Dike-New Hartford.
Suddenly, the Rockets had cut a nine-point deficit down to 23-19, prompting Wolverine head coach Diane Harms to use her first timeout of the night.
“We’re the type of team that’s not just going to lay down. That’s not in any of our personalities,” Taylor said. “When they started making mistakes, that’s what really gets us on a roll. We started doing better and picking up on each other’s intensity.”
“I think we just wanted it. We got lucky a few times, but more than anything we just wanted to make a run at them,” Alexander added.
Lizzy Blough stopped the Rocket surge with a kill and an impressive dig of a nasty Dike-New Hartford serve drifted wide on the return, giving the Wolverines the 2-0 lead. Still, the 25-19 loss seemed to bolster the Rockets’ hopes in the match.
“It’s a game that seems be so much about momentum,” Genskow said. “The momentum had switched back to our side. We just put together one point after another and we started to capitalize when they started trying to tip it past us instead of continuing to hammer us at the net.”
The Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont rally seemed to do more to wake up the Wolverines, which got back-to-back winners from Blough during the 19-5 run that opened the third game. Once again, however, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont didn’t just go away as the Rockets scored five straight points to pull within nine and nearly kept the run going when a Sadie Baugher kill just sailed out of bounds.
Dike-New Hartford didn’t waste any more time booking a state final rematch with Western Christian. Katelyn VanWechel sealed the sweep with an ace serve following Blough’s sixth kill to set up match point.
“We battled all season long and even to get up here and have the opportunity to play a team like this is something you don’t want to give up,” Genskow said. “We didn’t come out with the win, but we still played hard and we never gave up. That’s something these kids can be proud of.”
While No. 1 Dike-New Hartford will take a 44-1 record into its second straight state title match in 2A, which will take place at 4 p.m., No. 6 Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont has a lot to be proud off. The Rockets’ 35-6 season ended with a first-time semifinalist giving the defending state champs more than a few problems with a fighting spirit that lasted to the end.
“I’m extremely proud of all the girls. I’m glad we stuck in it,” Alexander, the lone departing senior starter for the Rockets, said. “We gave it all we got. It’s a good feeling when you know that you never gave up.”