WINTERSET — With similar records, both overall and in their respective conferences, the Class 3A regional opener here Monday figured to be a match down to the wire.
It was shaping up that way, too, as Creston took an 11-5 lead in the fourth set, trailing 2-1 through the first three. A dramatic fifth set to 15 points seemed almost inevitable.
Then Winterset closed it to 13-10, and senior Kylee Burk went on a six-point service string, including three aces, to push the Huskies in front, 16-13.
Each team took turns snaring a lead before a 21-21 deadlock. Mistakes in the final points cost the Panthers, despite a leaping kill by Natalie Mostek to make it 22-22.
There was a spike out of bounds, an errant toss on a serve leading to a ball in the net for a crucial Winterset point at 23-22. Another long spike and a ball in the net finished it in Winterset’s favor, 25-22.
Winterset won the opener, 25-20, Creston came back to take the second set, 25-22, and Winterset prevailed in the pivotal third set, 25-17. The 3-1 win sends the 14-19 Huskies into Thursday’s Class 4A semifinals at Grimes against Dallas Center-Grimes (8-16), which had a first-round bye.
Creston (13-13), had to climb from early deficits in every set but the final one. In the victorious second set, Hanna Luther served seven straight points, including a pair of aces, to put the Panthers in front 21-17. During that set, senior hitter Brianna Maitlen started heating up on her way to a team-high 11 kills.
Winterset fought back to within 23-22, but hit an attack out of bounds, and Haylee LaMasters served Creston’s final point in the 25-22 victory.
An early 14-7 deficit in game three proved too much to overcome in the 25-17 loss, and the Panthers were put in a “win or go home” mode the rest of the night.
Winterset coach Jennifer Devine said her team worked the game plan well.
“We knew we had to pass and stay positive,” Devine said. “We knew they would block well, and that they had a really good, tall middle hitter (Mostek) who could hit. We knew we had to at least get a touch on the ball. I thought we did a great job.”
Winterset unleashed a varied attack on the Panther defense.
“We work on hitting away and also on off-speed to try to throw the blockers off on timing,” Devine said. “Our serving was good tonight. We work on aggressive serving to score points.”
Creston coach Polly Luther knew the regional bracket was set up for a march to the regional finals for any of the three teams on the Panthers’ side of the bracket. There just wasn’t enough firepower Monday.
“It did not seem that our kill percentage was too good tonight,” Luther said. “They are a hard-hitting team, and when we give them something they can easily return, then it’s tough. They hit angles, and they can hit the line. We have to adjust with our blockers and get more touches on the ball.”
The Panthers were a little shorthanded up front with the absence of senior hitter Amy Dunphy, who played well in the regular-season finale against Glenwood.
“She had a sprained ankle early on and this week she tore ligaments in it,” Luther said. “She was hustling down to the middle school to mentor a young child. It was in the rain, and it just gave out on her.”
Luther praised the attacking mindset of another senior, Maitlen, in her final match. But, the passing for a consistent attack just wasn’t on target.
“It seemed like we were standing and then a half second late to the ball,” Luther said.
Maitlen was also the most consistent in serve receive (8-12) besides leading the team at the net. Alli Thomsen and Brenna Baker combined for 9-11 receiving serve.
LaMasters had a big night at the service line, going 17-17 with three aces. Sydney Rogers had a team-best four digs in the back row. Luther chalked up 24 assists for kills, and Mostek was the leading blocker with four total.
The varsity unit Monday included five seniors in Sam McDonald, Mackenzie Andreasen, Dunphy, Rogers and Maitlen. Everyone else dressed for the regional match is either a sophomore or freshman.
“It’s always tough to end the season,” Luther said. “But these girls are the start of something very promising. I told my underclassmen they need to thank the seniors, because they’ve started something that we are going to continue with. The girls on my bench, they’ve got a few years to go, not just next year. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Serving (aces) — Haylee LaMasters 17-17 (3), Natalie Mostek 8-11 (2), Hanna Luther 18-20 (1), Brianna Maitlen 6-8 (1), Sam McDonald 11-13, Ashley Harris 6-7.
Attacks (kills) — Maitlen 22-26 (11), Mostek 20-26 (7), Jenna Taylor 20-22 (4), Harris 9-11 (4), Nicole Haley 11-18 (3), Sydney Dunphy 6-12 (1), Luther 3-3 (1).
Blocks (solo-assists) — Mostek 1-3, Maitlen 0-2, Harris 0-2.
Setting (assists) — Luther 24, Taylor 1, Maitlen 1.
Digs — Sydney Rogers 4, Mostek 2, LaMasters 2, Maitlen 1, Luther 1, McDonald 1, Alli Thomsen 1.
Serve receive — Maitlen 8-12, Thomsen 5-6, Brenna Baker 4-5, McDonald 9-14, Rogers 8-14, S. Dunphy 2-3, Mostek 3-5.