CARROLL, Iowa — The Harlan Community girls weren't exactly sure where it came from. But they wouldn't object to seeing it a bit more often.
The Cyclones picked an ideal time to unleash perhaps their best stretch of play this season in the third and fourth sets of Thursday's showdown with Carroll Kuemper.
State Class 4-A No. 3 Harlan dug everything, picked up its blocking and generally transformed itself into a well-oiled machine, finishing off the 2-A No. 3 Knights 22-25, 25-23, 25-12, 25-12 in a key Hawkeye Ten Conference volleyball match.
“That's probably the best we've played,” Harlan coach Angie Spangenberg said of the final two sets. “Against a very good team. I know people are watching the ball, but I thought we covered well. We're starting to make good decisions in the back row, shooting the hole through the block, things like that.''
The Cyclones celebrated a little harder than your normal regular-season conference match — and with good reason. Harlan's victory created a three-way tie for first in the league chase with Carroll Kuemper and Council Bluffs Lewis Central. All three teams are 6-1 with two matches remaining.
“We knew we had to get them,” said Harlan senior Lauren Larsen, who turned in a strong match with 11 kills. “This was our last chance for a conference championship. We lost to them last year, and they beat us in our Cyclone Invitational last year as well.”
Harlan (24-3), rated second in western Iowa (Class 5-A/4-A/3-A) by The World-Herald, seized control of the match in the third set. After dropping a tight opener, Jess Schaben notched four kills, while Larsen and freshman Taylor Frederick added three each as the Cyclones evened things with a hard-fought 25-23 win.
From the start of the third set on, Harlan dominated every facet of the match. Senior middle Josie Esser picked up her blocking, and the rest of the Cyclones rarely let a Kuemper attack hit the floor.
“Everyone on the court was just so together and cheering everyone on, and I think that's what did it,” Esser said.
The momentum didn't subside in the fourth. Leading 14-10, the 6-foot-1 Schaben served two straight aces to ignite a 10-1 Harlan run. Schaben, Esser, Larsen and Taylor Wagner had consecutive kills during that stretch, and Larsen's kill closed it out. The Cyclones huddled together briefly after the final point, savoring the win and their remarkable stretch of play.
Schaben finished with 15 kills to go with Larsen's 11, and Wagner and the 6-foot Frederick added nine each. Young Frederick moved to the outside and was particularly effective.
“It's a different transition on the outside from the middle, and I thought tonight she really stepped it up,” Spangenberg said.
For two sets, Kuemper, up to No. 1 in the latest 2-A/1-A western Iowa ratings, looked like it has for most of the year, a powerhouse possessing the ability to beat anyone in the state. That made the struggles in the final two sets difficult to pinpoint.
“It's a funny sport,” Kuemper coach Keith Stickrod said. “We got down on ourselves. It shows on their faces, and we've got to break that habit.”
The Knights were playing without third-leading hitter Claire Ludwig, who was injured but expected back soon. However, Stickrod wasn't about to use that as an excuse. He expects his club to react positively and use the experience to its benefit.
“This is something they'll learn from,” he said.
Harlan (24-3, 6-1).........................22 25 25 25
At Carroll Kuemper (22-4, 6-1)..............25 23 12 12
H (kills-aces-blocks): Asia Kloewer 0-0-0, Liz Riessen 0-0-0, Jess Schaben 15-5-4, Elle Kloewer 3-0-0, Kenzie Swanson 0-0-0, Ana Petersen 0-0-0, Lauren Larsen 11-0-0, Taylor Wagner 9-0-2, Josie Esser 4-1-4, Taylor Frederick 9-0-2.
K: Hannah Macke 0-0-0, Jacie Hoffman 0-0-0, Brandi Bueltel 10-3-0, Morgan Naberhaus 3-1-0, Moriah Bohlmann 1-0-1, Taylor Boldt 0-2-0, Hannah Dentlinger 8-0-1, Lexi Albrecht 6-0-1, Maria Dentlinger 4-0-0, Nicole Becker 5-0-0, Karla Knobbe 0-1-0.
Set assists: H, Riessen 23, Swanson 17, E. Kloewer 3, Wagner 3, Larsen 1, Frederick 1. K, Naberhaus 32, Bohlmann 1, Knobbe 1.
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