The night started off with some intimidation by the state’s third-ranked (Class 3A) team.
Five of the Carroll Kuemper Catholic starters introduced for Tuesday’s Hawkeye 10 Conference volleyball match here were seniors. None of the Panthers were seniors.
Then, the Knights squad that reached the state tournament semifinals last year bolted to a 7-0 lead in game one. A complicating factor for the Panthers was that junior middle hitter Natalie Mostek was nursing a sprained ankle from Sunday’s Powder Puff football game, part of the week’s homecoming activities.
But, Creston then seemed to settle in and actually outscored Kuemper 8-7 during the next stretch. Senior hitters Paige Overmohle and Claire Ludwig then took control down the stretch as the Knights won 25-13.
Creston had several one-point leads in game two but fell at the end, 25-22, and Kuemper’s Hannah Macke went on a nine-point service run in game three to help the Knights complete the sweep, 25-16.
Kuemper improved to 17-1 overall and 4-1 in the Hawkeye 10, having lost only to Class 4A top-ranked Harlan. Creston slips to 10-6 and 2-3.
But, there were stretches — particularly in the tight second set — where the Panthers went toe-to-toe at the net with the taller, more experienced Knights.
“I feel much better about this match than I did against St. Albert,” Creston coach Polly Luther said. “I felt we played harder, and with a healthy Mostek, who knows what might have happened if we’re able to finish that second game? But near the end of that game it was really getting tight on her. As a middle hitter you have to get side to side all the time, and that was hard for her.”
There was a big difference in the competitive nature of the match after being blanked during the first seven points of the night.
“Some of that I chalk up to inexperience,” Luther said. “Just the fear of, you know, it’s Kuemper and here they come. You heard them announce their starters as senior-senior-senior-senior. I was cheering that from the sideline, because one time when I looked up at our team I saw one junior and five sophomores out there.”
After the close second set, Creston was contending again in game three at 11-11. But that’s when Macke went on her service run. Soon, it was a 21-11 bulge and the Panthers were not able to cut into the gap.
The Knights had a total of 44 kills in three sets, led by Ludwig with 15, Becker with 12 and Overmohle with 11. Hannah Dentlinger had two blocks. All of those players are seniors except Overmohle, a sophomore.
Sophomore Sydney Dunphy had six kills to lead Creston, with Mostek and sophomore Angie Sorensen each tallying five. Mostek and Sorensen had three blocks each.
Jami Sickels served 11-of-11 and Haylee LaMasters was 10-10. Alli Thomsen had a team-high eight digs.
Kuemper coach Keith Stickrod said his team’s experience played a role in finishing the close sets. But he sees promise in the young Panther squad.
“Creston is definitely improving,” he said. “You can see it. They’re running their offense a little better, serve receive was really good tonight. They are scrappier than in the past.”
For Luther, a break from competition until Oct. 3 against Lewis Central at home is an opportunity for injuries to heal, especially Mostek’s.
“I told Natalie, if this was going to happen, it couldn’t come at a much better time,” Luther said. “This break is golden for us.”
Serving (aces) — Jami Sickels 11-11, Haylee LaMasters 10-10, Brenna Baker 8-8, Hanna Luther 7-7, Natalie Mostek 6-7 (1), Alli Thomsen 4-4.
Attacks (kills) — Sydney Dunphy 6, Angie Sorensen 5, Mostek 5, Nicole Haley 4, Jenna Taylor 3.
Blocks —Sorensen 3, Mostek 3, Taylor 2.
Setting (assists) — 23.
Digs — Thomsen 8, Sickels 5.
Serve receive — Baker 8-11, Thomsen 14-20, Sickels 7-11, Haylee LaMasters 8-14, Haley 3-5.
Creston’s JV captured the first set, 25-16, but Kuemper rebounded to take the next two, 25-20, 15-12. It was only the second loss of the season for Creston (8-2).
“I thought our girls looked pretty sharp tonight,” said Creston coach Jessie McClellan. “I know a loss may not reflect that, but we were doing good things against a good team. Kuemper has a strong program and we hung right with them. To me, that shows we have girls who are working hard and improving. That’s all I can ask for.”
Audrey Fyock was 10-10 in serve receive for Creston and 10-11 in digs.
“Audrey looked great tonight,” McClellan said. “She had a hand on everything.”
A strong Kuemper freshman team swept Creston 25-9, 25-5, 25-14, 25-20.
“That is a very good freshman team,” Creston coach Mike McCabe said. “We were a lot better today on serve receive, getting more balls up to our setter. Still, we’re not where we want to be. But it was much better.”
Serving leaders for Creston were Katie Powers 7-7, Cammy Rutherford 5-5, Cydney Seeley 7-8 and Michelle Isoas 4-4.
The Panthers are back in action Saturday in their own tournament.