AFTON — After finishing runner-up at the Pride of Iowa Conference Volleyball Championships each of the past three years, the East Union Eagles finally broke through and won the championship, defeating rival Bedford 25-13, 25-20, 25-17 here Tuesday night.
Bedford came into the contest ranked No. 10 in Class 1A, while the Eagles were ranked No. 11. Bedford had already claimed a 25-23, 25-23, 25-27, 25-21 victory over East Union back on Sept. 18.
East Union defeated Martensdale-St. Marys 25-20, 28-26, 25-8 in the semifinal round Tuesday to advance to the finals. Bedford won a hard-fought match against Interstate 35, winning 17-25, 25-21, 25-11, 20-25, 15-10.
With Bedford going a full five sets against Interstate 35, the East Union players had a chance to rest before the finals.
“That’s kind of like a double-edged sword,” East Union head coach Gail Thatcher said. “Sometimes sitting can hurt you, and sometimes those five games can hurt you. I knew if I got my girls pumped up, this is something they’ve wanted for a long time, and they were ready to go.”
And East Union came out ready to play, jumping out to a quick 8-1 lead against Bedford in the first set, riding the wave of Amber Friend’s serve.
Friend collected back-to-back aces at one point during that stretch, and finished the match with eight aces on 25-of-27 serving.
“Amber really got off to a good roll there and was being aggressive, putting it in the seams,” Thatcher said. “We talked about that — not serving at people, but putting it in different places and making them work harder.”
After Bedford cut the lead to 9-3, Brittany Malone scored back-to-back points for East Union, putting the Eagles back up 11-3.
Leading 17-9, East Union went on another run with Friend serving, scoring five straight points — three of which came on Friend aces.
Serve receive was another key to the Eagle victory over Bedford, as East Union went 80 percent as a team on serve receive — including 16-16 by senior Dusti Carlisle.
“We were ready to pass,” Thatcher said. “We’d really been talking about that, if we saw Bedford again, that we had to serve receive. That was key. We got behind the ball, put the ball up into our setter’s hands and then she could put it in the hitters’ hand, and that and that made a big difference tonight.”
Malone and Shelby Smith each finished with two solo blocks in the match, while Smith also assisted on three blocks.
Friend led the Eagles with 12 kills, while Malone added seven and Smith had six.
Rochelle Means dished out 29 assists in the match.
“They wanted a rematch against Bedford ever since we played them down at Bedford,” Thatcher said. “They were ready to play them again, and they were excited to play them again. I thought the girls did a nice job taking the game and controlling the game the whole time. That was a key for us.”
In the third-place game, Martensdale-St. Marys defeated Interstate 35, 25-18, 25-20, 25-20.
In the semifinal sweep of Martensdale-St. Marys, Friend and Smith were both active at the net, finishing with 22 and 16 kills respectively.
Smith and Malone each finished with one solo block. Smith also added three aces on 16-17 serving.
Friend, Kelsey Hoff and Carlisle each contributed two aces, as the Eagles served at 94 percent for the match.
Means collected 45 assists in the match, while Malone finished with 20 digs.
“Martensdale kept mixing up their shots,” Thatcher said. “My girls did a really nice job of staying tight, back, coming in and getting the dinks. Then we did a nice job of attacking. Amber Friend really attacked the ball hard. Shelby Smith was another one who really attacked the ball hard for us.”
The Eagles, now 26-5 for the season, return to action Thursday at Southeast Warren.
East Union 3, MSM 0
Serving (aces) — Amber Friend 12-13 (2), Rochelle Means 9-10, Kelsey Hoff 15-16 (2), Shelby Smith 16-17 (3), Brittany Malone 7-7, Dusti Carlisle 14-15 (2).
Attacks (kills) — Friend 41-44 (22), Means 10-10 (2), Smith 30-32 (16), Carlisle 4-4, Malone 15-15 (5), Hoff 14-16 (3), Chay Blondowski 2-5 (2).
Blocks (solo-assists) — Smith 1-1, Malone 1-0, Blondowski 0-1.
Setting (assists) — Means 45, Blondowski 1.
Digs — Malone 20, Carlisle 17, Friend 16, Means 12, Smith 10, Hoff 6, Blondowski 2, Emily Eckels 1, Kali Mertens 1.
East Union 3, Bedford 0
Serving (aces) — Friend 25-27 (8), Means 10-10, Hoff 6-9 (1), Malone 9-10 (2), Smith 8-9 (2), Carlisle 7-8 (1).
Attacks (kills) — Friend 25-28 (12), Means 7-9 (2), Smith 20-22 (6), Carlisle 1-1, Malone 15-15 (7), Hoff 10-12 (4).
Blocks (solo-assists) — Smith 2-3, Malone 2-0, Hoff 0-2, Means 0-1.
Setting (assists) — Means 29, Smith 1.
Digs — Carlisle 14, Malone 8, Hoff 8, Friend 7, Smith 7, Means 5, Blondowski 1.