Ar-We-Va’s postseason run ended one match short of the state volleyball tournament on Tuesday night, as the Rockets suffered a 3-1 loss to 11th-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the Class 1A, Region 3 championship match at Boone High School.
The Rebels defeated Amber Hoffman’s Rocket club 25-15, 18-25, 25-19, 25-22, advancing to the state tournament for the first time in 30 years under head coach Paula Kelley.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (28-9) landed the eighth seed and will take on top-ranked and top-seeded Janesville (43-5) in a 6 p.m. state quarterfinal contest on Wednesday, November 7, at the U.S. Cellular Center at Cedar Rapids.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck had swept No. 5 North Tama in a regional semifinal last Thursday night at Traer to reach the title affair.
Ar-We-Va, which defeated Audubon, Coon Rapids-Bayard and No. 13 CAM in regional play to reach Tuesday’s final, saw its season end at 17-11 overall in matches and 50-34 in games with the team’s 3-1 setback.
Ar-We-Va came out nervous in game one, as G-R scored five consecutive points before the Rockets finally put a point on the scoreboard.
The Rebels kept their foot on the gas en route to a 25-15 triumph in the opening set.
Ar-We-Va settled down in game two and raced out to a 7-1 lead en route to a 25-19 win that tied the match at one apiece.
Riding momentum, the Rockets jumped ahead 9-4 in game three before G-R rallied back to force ties at 11-11 and 13-13.
The Rebels then went on for a 25-19 win that put Paula Kelley’s squad up 2-1 in games.
Game four went back and forth the entire way with 10 lead changes between the two teams.
Ar-We-Va was in position to force a fifth and deciding game with leads of 20-18 and 22-20, but G-R scored the final five points to win the set and match.
"The girls played hard throughout. We came out a little nervous in game one, but that’s normal for us. It took a little time for the girls to soak in the atmosphere," commented Ar-We-Va’s Hoffman.
"The girls played much better in game two. I thought we came out with a little more fire and adjusted to what they did in game one. I think we threw them for a loop a little bit because I think they thought it was going to be an easy victory," she added.
"We started stong again in game three, but just couldn’t finish, as we did make some mistakes down the stretch and didn’t get a lot of breaks from the officials."
"We definitely had an opportunity to win game four, but the girls played it safe and maybe a little too scared instead of just playing when the set tightened over the final few points," Hoffman remarked.
"I can see why the girls were nervous in that situation, but those are the things we need to take care of if they want to take the next step, added the Rocket boss, whose team had been trying to reach the state tournament for the third time in school history and first since 2003.
Ar-We-Va’s initial trip to the state tournament was in 1994.
Tuesday’s contest featured a matchup of two of the state’s top four hitters in Class 1A in senior Emilee Danner of Ar-We-Va and G-R sophomore Saari Kuehl.
Danner finished the night with 29 kills, five solo blocks and five digs.
Danner went into the match needing only four kills to reach 1,000 for her career, a feat accomplished early in game one.
The 29 kills enabled Danner to finish with 425 kills on the season and 1,025 for her career.
Kuehl went into Tuesday’s regional final with 419 kills on the year and finished with a team-high 20 against the Rockets.
Senior Emily Hinners added five kills and three solo blocks for Ar-We-Va.
Jadeyn Smith had four kills, 10 digs and one ace serve. Sara Schurke finished with 31 assists, two digs and one ace serve.
Hannah Kraus tallied eight digs and four ace serves. Leslie Luft had 13 digs, while Bridget Cameron finished with three digs, two kills and one ace serve.
"I’m very proud of the girls. They accomplished a lot of good things this year, while having a lot of fun," noted Hoffman, whose squad went 7-1 in capturing the Rolling Valley Conference regular season championship.
"I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to get this far with. I know they’re disappointed with the loss, but I know they left it all out there on the court."
"They really pushed themselves and played well against a great team tonight. I’m glad we gave them a run for their money, but really wished that the outcome would have been different," Hoffman said.
Tuesday’s match was the final contest for three Ar-We-Va seniors in Danner, Hinners and Maddie Owen.
The trip to the state tournament is extra special for G-R’s Kelley.
Kelley was a senior on G-R’s last state tournament team in 1988 that advanced to the finals in the school’s first year as a consolidation.
"Ar-We-Va played a little different style than we were used to. Usually we faced hard attacks all the way across the net and they did a nice job of picking the holes on us," commented Kelley.
"Getting out strong in game one was key. I think coming off our big win over North Tama last week really had the girls energized. The girls came out confident and showed that early on," she added.
"We knew they had an outstanding player in the Danner girl. We sort of had to change our defense a little bit. She started out hitting and then adjusted and started tipping the ball on us and finding some holes. We just didn’t read her very well."
"But we knew she was Ar-We-Va’s go-to girl, so our goal was to shut down the other girls because we knew that Danner was going to get her touches."
"We really just tried to serve away from her to keep her out of game as much as possible," Kelley said.
"It’s really cool that I get to take my Alma Mater back to the state tournament. It’s pretty special," Kelley remarked.