CARROLL, Iowa — The calendar said early September. The atmosphere felt like early November.
Class 3-A No. 3 Carroll Kuemper did the best job of feeding off the frenzied environment on Thursday night, handling Class 3-A No. 4 Red Oak 25-17, 25-12, 25-27, 25-16 in the Hawkeye Ten Conference opener for both at the Kuemper gymnasium.
“I told the girls at the beginning of this game, 'This is like a regional match to me,'” Kuemper coach Keith Stickrod said. “Winning over a rated team is key right away.”
After sweeping Carroll High in a nonconference match to open the season, Kuemper, also third in The World-Herald's western Iowa ratings (Class 5-A/4-A/3-A), improved to 2-0 overall.
“I felt confident going into it because the girls just gave me that vibe,” Stickrod said. “They just felt like they were clicking, and that's how it felt at practice. They're a smooth group of girls right now.”
It was the first match of the season for western Iowa No. 5 Red Oak. While acknowledging that, Red Oak coach Angie Montgomery said that shouldn't let her team completely off the hook. The Tigers made 14 serving errors to Kuemper's three, and they were never in either of the first two sets, trailing 8-1 in both.
“This is the first year we've started out with a pretty tough test,” Montgomery said. “I think that's OK. We felt like we were ready for it, as much as we've played. We played tough teams this summer and preseason. But there were way too many things that didn't go our way tonight. Had we have played more consistently, we wouldn't have struggled as much as we did.”
With its deep, athletic front line, Kuemper wasn't threatened in the first two sets, thrilling its large student section dressed in camouflage and blaze orange. Senior Nicole Becker had five kills in the opener and senior Claire Ludwig led the way with four in the second.
“The first couple games they were on,'' Stickrod said. “They were just clicking.''
Red Oak reduced its mistakes in the third set, and the teams locked into some terrific rallies. It was tied at 24 and then again at 25 after Grace Blomstedt's block for the Tigers. The Knights were then called for a lift, giving Red Oak its third set point. Blomstedt served an ace to send it to a fourth set. Red Oak junior Kate Walker had five kills in the set.
“Red Oak is very aggressive, strong defensively,'' Stickrod said. “The biggest thing about playing Red Oak is, they're going to save balls on you. You just can't get frustrated.''
In the fourth, the 5-foot-9 Walker tried to keep her team in contention, with five more of her match-high 16 kills. But Kuemper regained its form, getting four kills from the 5-11 Ludwig, three from 5-10 Becker and two each from 6-0 junior Maria Dentlinger and 5-10 sophomore Paige Overmohle to stretch a 9-6 lead into a 22-11 bulge. Moments later, it was over.
Overmohle has stepped in nicely in the middle for senior Hannah Dentlinger, who is out indefinitely with a torn ACL. Stickrod said he likes the Overmohle's no-holds-barred style of play at the net.
Senior Morgan Naberhaus handed out 29 assists. She said the Knights were huffing and puffing after the third set.
“Out of my two or three years of varsity volleyball, that was probably the most exhausting set I ever played,'' she said. “We just needed to calm down, do our game and we'd be fine.''
Red Oak (0-1, 0-1) ............................ 17 12 27 16
Carroll Kuemper (2-0, 1-0) ............................ 25 25 25 25
RO (kills-aces-blocks): Angela Mahoney 10-1-1, Makelti White 0-0-0, Grace Blomstedt 9-1-2, Madison Gilbert 3-0-0, Kate Walker 16-0-1, Courtney Billings 3-2-0, Sabrina Guerra 0-0-0, Micayla Taylor 0-0-0, Blake Bergren 1-0-0, McKenna Mertz 0-0-0, Dana Marsden 0-0-0.
CK: Hannah Macke 0-0-0, Morgan Naberhaus 0-3-0, Taylor Boldt 0-2-0, Paige Overmohle 7-2-1, Claire Ludwig 13-2-2, Maria Dentlinger 7-0-3, Karla Knobbe 0-2-0,
Set assists: RO: White 16, Billings 11, Taylor 6, Bergren 5, Blomstedt 1. CK: Naberhaus 29, Macke 2, Boldt 1, Dentlinger 1.