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This CHS volleyball team reaching heights not seen in 20 years

Twenty years, and nine different coaches passed between the 22-7-1 season under coach Eldon Gammell in 1992, and the next winning volleyball regular season at Creston High School this year under the direction of Eldon’s daughter, Polly Luther.

The former all-state setter for the 1987 state tournament team said when she took over the program this year, one of her biggest challenges was convincing the girls they could compete with the upper teams in the Hawkeye 10. Well, they’ve already shown signs.

You don’t make up all that lost ground overnight, but last Tuesday’s exciting 3-0 sweep over a Glenwood team standing above them in the league race achieved real progress. Going into Monday’s regional match at Winterset, they take a 13-12 overall record. The win moved them into a sixth-place tie with Glenwood and Shenandoah.

That’s not bad in a league with five state-rated teams — Class 2A No. 3 Kuemper Catholic; Class 3A No. 9 Red Oak and No. 15 Clarinda and Class 4A No. 3 Harlan and No. 11 Lewis Central.

If the only teams above you are considered some of the best in the state, you’re getting somewhere.

The girls on this 2012 team may not even realize the magnitude of what they’ve already accomplished, before they set out on the tournament trail.

Think of the number of players, including some very good ones, that have passed through the program since Gammell’s 22-win club in 1992.

The list of head coaches during the time between .500 records is a long one — Jan Lesan (1993), Paul Jameson (1994, 1995), Beth Ward (1996), Liz Brown (1997-1999), Kurt Bremer (2000, 2001), Jer Osgood (2002, 2003), Susan Harris (2004-2009), Lori Slight (2010-2011) and Polly Luther this year.

There were some highlights along the way, just not winning records. Bremer came to the district as a football and baseball coach, but he knew how to motivate kids and he quickly learned the game. His 7-18-5 team in 2001 reached the regional semifinals against Harlan.

Team members were Sheena and Darrah Dawson, Megan Hilger, Jessica Schierbaum, Kelsey Hoakison, Meagan Freml, Cassie Seddon, Stormy Weis, Veronica Flores, Erin Duree, Amy Goldsmith, Kylee Bradley, Nellie Young and Erin Hudek.

Ward’s 1996 team was 8-12-5, but took second in the Hawkeye 10 with six victories. They were nearly .500 in sets at 38-43, and lost to Winterset 3-2 in a tough regional match.

Top players at the net for that group were Jessica Moeller, Bish Moffitt, Casee Piel and Sarah Harris. Meg Gammell — Polly’s sister and now head coach at Woodward-Granger with sister Kate — was a tough server and setter. Kelli Anthony, Heidi Hellyer, Andrea Briley and Jessica Beving were all instrumental in postseason play.

But you have to go back all the way to 1992 to find a team with more success from a record standpoint than this mix of veterans and youngsters in 2012.

Memorable year

It was a special fall in 1992 for Creston High School, going 8-2 as a playoff team in football, losing a tough 14-12 game on a bitterly cold night at Norwalk. (That was the year unranked Bedford took the 1A crown.) Creston girls cross country placed 12th at state, and Rita Schroeder took her SWCC team to the national volleyball tournament for the third time.

Eldon Gammell’s volleyball team was the third in school history to win 20 matches, and none have happened since. He took teams to state in 1987 and 1980.

The driving force of that 1992 team was veteran leadership. The varsity had 10 seniors and two juniors. The team was second in the Hawkeye Eight at 5-2.

Among the notables were Emily Sevier (first-team all-conference and all-southwest Iowa), Colleen Driskell (second-team all-conference), Heather Donahue (honorable mention all-conference) and Trista Antisdel (honorable mention all-conference).

Back after two years not coaching the girls, coach Gammell said he enjoyed the experience.

“The girls worked really hard and made this a fun season to coach,” he said afterward. “The girls weren’t selfish this year either, and just did what it took to win.”

Other varsity team members were Lani Smith, Teri Bunkofske (now middle school coach Teri Keeler), Alexa Loudon, Amy Sharp, Shelly Wilkening, Tara Adams, Erin Wilson, Lisa Burkhalter and Ayako Hatamoto.

It was a dominant team, going 57-30 in sets. They won at Harlan after trailing 0-2 in sets. The team served at 91.9 percent. Antisdel served 107 aces and Driskell set 4.7 assists per game.

Hitting leaders were Sevier, Adams, Driskell, Donahue and Erin Wilson. The defense featured Antisdel, Loudon, Burkhalter, Donahue and Smith.

Creston beat Perry in postseason play that year, before being derailed by 12th-ranked Winterset.

This year

This Creston team may not be quite as powerful as that, or have the solid state-tourney potential of the likes of East Union and Bedford in 1A. But, it’s not a stretch to anticipate a decent tourney run and at least a shot at taking on Harlan in a regional final.

Backed by a rowdy male student section, they rattled a Glenwood team that came in with a nearly identical season record. Winterset (13-19) is in the same mold. Beatable, but they are playing on their home court.

This is a good bunch of upperclassmen and new varsity members who have come together under a coach willing to push different buttons on any given night to achieve results. Freshman libero Alli Thomsen came in cold off the bench late in the third game on Tuesday, and handled a tough serve so sophomore Hanna Luther (the coach’s daughter) could set it up for a sharp crosscourt kill by senior Brianna Maitlen.

That’s just one of many examples of different players contributing on different nights. While seniors Maitlen and Amy Dunphy and sophomore Natalie Mostek are three of the big hammers up front, you can’t scout Creston and say you’ll win by taking away one or two kids. There is balance.

Promising future

And future potential. Sometimes freshmen Jenna Taylor and Sydney Dunphy are doing the heavy hitting up front. While Sydney Rogers and Sam McDonald are veterans in the back row, the defense also sparkles when they call on the likes of sophomore Haylee LaMasters, freshman Thomsen or sophomore Brenna Baker. Maitlen, Luther and Amy Dunphy are also steady when they rotate to the back and receive serve.

Luther has been a workhorse as setter, which comes as no surprise. In middle school basketball, I would just tell her who the best scorer was on the other team, and had her “get after her.” There’s no lack of hustle.

Then, when you look at what the JV has done under a coach with varsity experience, Mallory Peterson, and the outstanding freshman team guided by Mike McCabe — the only stable element of the staff over all those years — we’re watching a program bloom.

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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