ONAWA - A strong hitting game and the experience of playing in five straight regional finals proved the difference as LeMars Gehlen Catholic topped Fremont-Mills 25-17, 25-19, 25-11 in the Class 1A Region 2 finals last Monday in Onawa.
The No. 3 ranked Jays, who qualified for their fifth straight state volleyball tournament with the win, were the aggressors from the opening serve, which left the No. 13 ranked Knights playing catch up all night.
“Their height, their serving, their hitting and everything that went into that,” said Fremont-Mills coach Tracy Malcom. “We knew they’d be tough. We had some film on them and we worked on some things in practice but there’s just so much we can do, we have 5-foot-7 and 5-foot-8 girls. We’re quick and athletic as heck, but with a team like them who can put the ball away like they do, there’s not a lot we can do.
“They’re a great team with a great coaching staff. We did what we could do. We just came up short.”
The Knights got behind 4-0 early but scrambled back to take a brief 6-5 lead, but the Jays rallied behind the hitting of Morgan Whitehead, Alison Schnepf and Bailey Wiltgen to close out the match, scoring nine of the last 12 points.
Fremont-Mills got down again in the second set, trailing 9-1 before trimming the lead to 13-11 and tied it at 17-17 but the Jays, once again, rattled off five straight and closed out the match 25-19.
The Jays got three kills from Whitehead and two each from Wiltgen and Hannah Kessenich to open a 18-5 lead in the final game.
Gehlen Catholic finished with 43 kills and hit a blistering .481 as a team. Whitehead and Wiltgen led with 11 each. Schnepf added 10.
The Knights finished with 18 kills, led by Taryn Williams’ seven. Andrea McClary added four and Macy Williams three.
Fremont-Mills wraps up it’s historic season – the Knights had never previous played in a regional final – with a record of 22-5. Malcom, in her first year at the helm, said the loss did nothing to diminish what her team accomplished this season.
“I told them how proud of I was of them all season,” Malcom said. “I knew what we had, the puzzle pieces were there, I just had to put the puzzle pieces together and I think we did that. I told the girls the other day, ‘There’s only 16 teams left putting their shoes and knee pads on for practice out of 108 teams in Class 1A and you’re one of those 16. Be proud of yourselves and your teammates and everything they you did this year.’ They’ve have the heart like champions.”
The Knights return three of their top four hitters and their top setter next season.
“We can only build on from what we did this year,” Malcom said.
Gehlen Catholic (23-11) opens state play tonight against Stanton (37-5).