FREMONT – Sometimes a volleyball coach will make key strategy changes between sets or even add a few wrinkles to what is working on the court. And, sometimes, a coach uses the three minutes between sets to chew some butt.
That’s what Howells-Dodge coach Neil VanLengen did between the second and third sets with his team on Tuesday night in the Class D1-3 subdistrict championship – and it worked.
Howells-Dodge, 21-10 and ranked #7 in Class D-1, won the subdistrict championship 25-22, 22-25, 25-15, 25-19 over #3 Cedar Bluffs at Fremont Senior High.
“I kind of lit into them a bit,” VanLengen said following the match when asked what sparked the Jaguars’ resurgence after dropping the second set. “We had gotten tentative and when you play against a team that plays great floor defense like (Cedar Bluffs) does, you can’t tip.
“We turned into a more aggressive team. The girls decided they didn’t want to go home because we were tipping the ball all night.”
WATCH THE FINAL THREE MINUTES OF THE MATCH HERE
After playing two tight sets to start the match, Howells-Dodge clearly came out more aggressive in the third set and sprinted out to a 6-1 lead behind a kill and block from Samantha Brester and a kill by Kalli Brester.
That quick start in the third set – and the stern talking from VanLengen – helped Howells-Dodge find its momentum, senior outside hitter Faith Molacek said.
“We took that very, very seriously, and it was a good thing because it helped us stop shaking and got the jitters out,” Molacek said. “We got a big kill right away and the nerves were just gone.”
After Cedar Bluffs got within 8-6 on a kill by Emilee Klahn, Howells-Dodge proceeded to go on another 6-1 run to pull out to a 14-7 lead and the Wildcats never threatened again in the set.
In the fourth set, Cedar Bluffs held early leads of 9-6 and 12-9 and eventually took a 15-14 lead after a kill by Klahn and a Howells-Dodge hitting error. The Jaguars, however, tied it at 15-15 on a Cedar Bluffs service error and took the lead for good at 16-15 on a kill by sophomore Haley Eikmeier.
Eikmeier drew the praise of VanLengen after the match. The 5-foot-10 middle finished the night with three kills and two blocks. Before Tuesday night’s district final, Eikmeier had only played in eight varsity sets this season and did not have a kill all year.
“Haley Eikmeier blocked her butt off and played the game of her life,” VanLengen said. “And, it came on a night when we had to have her.”
Molacek led Howells-Dodge with a match-high 16 kills while Kalli Brester added 13 and Sam Brester had 11. Cedar Bluffs was led by Maddison Roumph and Mandi Stansberry with 10 kills apiece.
Howells-Dodge will face Humphrey St. Francis on Thursday in the Class D1-2 district final for a trip to state. Cedar Bluffs, which dropped to 26-3 with the loss, is still alive for a potential wild card berth into the state tournament, depending on the results of Thursday’s district finals.
Class D1-3 Subdistrict Championship
Howells-Dodge def. Cedar Bluffs 25-22, 22-25, 25-15, 25-19.
Howells-Dodge (kills-ace serves-blocks)
Haley Eikmeier 3-0-2, Kalli Brester 13-0-2, Sam Brester 11-1-2, Kelly Cech 1-0-2, Abby Coday 1-0-1, Morgan Baumert 0-1-0, Shelby Hegemann 0-1-0, Kara Brichacek 2-0-2, Faith Molacek 16-0-0, Hailey Coufal 0-2-0.
Cedar Bluffs (kills-ace serves-blocks)
Maddison Roumph 10-3-0, Kylie Lineberry 1-0-0, Emilee Klahn 10-2-2, Shelby Lineberry 5-2-1, Mandi Stansberry 10-0-0, Bailey Tenopir 1-0-0.
Assists: Howells-Dodge 37 (Baumert 18, Tessa Brester 13, Eikmeier 2, Hegemann 2, Cech 1, Coday 1). Cedar Bluffs 30 (Shelby Lineberry 24, Kylie Lineberry 6). Digs: Howells-Dodge 70 (Megan Kaup 21). Cedar Bluffs: N/A.