COUNCIL BLUFFS — Everything was lined up for the Iowa Western volleyball team.
A large crowd on “Jam the Gym’’ night. The first-ever homecoming week on campus. And a promotion to the No. 1 junior-college ranking in the country just hours earlier.
Then the Reivers went out and played with little inspiration or precision in a 25-20 opening-set loss to No. 15 Indian Hills, a sub-.500 team last season.
Iowa Western worked out the kinks, recovering to defeat the much-improved Warriors 20-25, 25-16, 26-14, 25-20 before a reporter-estimated 800 Wednesday at Kanesville Arena.
Iowa Western coach Alicia Williams wasn’t surprised her team started slowly.
“I could tell in warmups,’’ she said. “I was like, ‘That was the worst we’ve ever warmed up. I hope it doesn’t correlate to the game.’ And it did.’’
Williams acknowledged that the Warriors are significantly better, as five of their seven regulars on Wednesday were freshmen.
“It was an eye-opener,’’ she said. “It was good for us to drop that first set. I think the girls realized that they’re human and that it happens.’’
Reiver All-American hitter Aly Dawson said her team wasn’t anticipating Indian Hills’ improvement.
“We were completely shocked,’’ she said. “We were like, ‘OK, how good can they really be?’ It definitely took us by surprise.’’
The Reivers got untracked in the second set, with Dawson swatting five kills and Kassidy Sullivan adding four.
Iowa Western’s most perilous stage of the match came at the end of the third set. It saw its 20-14 lead melt to 24-23, and after a timeout, Mirela Vasconcelos rifled an ace on the sideline to even the set at 24.
Setter Kathia (Nicole) Sanchez went to the ever-collected Sullivan in the middle, and she delivered to give the Reivers a set point. Sanchez then registered a kill to put the hosts up two sets to one.
“She’s my steady Eddie,’’ Williams said of Sullivan. “She’s composed, no matter what it is. It could be the best team or the worst team. She has the same face.’’
Iowa Western led 19-12 in the fourth set before the Warriors pulled within 20-18. Dawson’s team-leading 17th and final kill started a four-point Reiver run, and soon the hour-and-40-minute match was over.
Between the second and third sets, sophomore libero Elly Targy (Omaha Gross) was announced as one of the homecoming queen candidates. She said it’s been an exciting week, and a loss in front the large crowd would have been difficult to take.
“I’m just glad we pulled ourselves together,’’ she said. “We just told each other to forget that game.’’
Indian Hills coach Lyndsey Lyon Michel said her team learned plenty from the experience.
“We gained confidence, taking a set from the No. 1 team in the nation,’’ she said. “That’s huge for us. We know that we can compete and we are. You always feel bad about the loss, but I feel good going home tonight.’’
Williams said she tried to downplay the No. 1 ranking and focus on what her team can control.
“We just talk about how we’re going to prepare and win that (next) match,’’ she said. “That’s a lot more important than No. 1.
“Yes, it’s really cool to be No. 1. I love to tell recruits that we’re No. 1. It’s good for publicity and fans, but when it comes to our team, we’re about the little things. If I can keep my team humble, I think we’ll do really well this year.’’
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Indian Hills (13-1)............25 16 24 20
At Iowa Western (12-0).....20 25 26 25
IH (kills-aces-blocks): Sarah Ryder 0-0-0, Katie Soddy 2-0-2, Lauren Streets 10-2-2, Tamara Mersell 6-2-2, Kameo Pope 10-0-2, Mirela Vasconcelos 7-1-4, Nora Buvarp 7-0-0, Mackenzie Felt 0-0-0.
IW: Casey Curran 0-0-0, Kassidy Sullivan 9-1-4, Aly Dawson 17-1-1, Kathia (Nicole) Sanchez 4-2-1, Elly Targy 0-3-0, Taylor Liesemeyer 7-0-4, Gabriella Strazzeri 12-0-1, Maci Coffey 4-0-2.
Set assists: IH, Soddy 36, Ryder 1; IW, Sanchez 42, Targy 1.