English Valleys rebounds in conference tournament

Audrey Grove (13) was the centerpiece of the English Valleys offense. She accumulated 10 kills, four blocks and one dig in the win over Tri-County.

The English Valleys volleyball team saw an early exit on day one of the conference tournament. The Lady Bears faced off with North Mahaska on October 10 at Montezuma, the winner to play Montezuma.

North Mahaska got off to a quick start, but E.V. hung around for most of the match. Neither side took much of a lead, E.V. would go up by a point or two and then the opponent would make a run to retake the lead. Back and forth play went up to the final two points in the match, which ended up going to North Mahaska. The first set score was 26-24.

English Valleys fell behind again in the second set. While the point differential was small, the momentum swings between small rallies was much larger. Midway through the set, E.V. began to falter, and North Mahaska exploited it when they could. North Mahaska finished out the set on a high, taking it 25-19.

"We couldn't put the ball down, you can't free-ball and win in this game," Lady Bears coach Becky Becker said. "Every time we attacked the ball good things happened, we just couldn't attack it well enough. It started with the passing."

With the threat of an early sweep, the Lady Bears stepped up their play for most of the third set. Similar to the first two sets, E.V. faced a hole early on, but continued to fight. A string of good serves at the line, combined with some key blocks at the net helped E.V. gain some traction and a small lead. Once North Mahaska ended the rally they quickly retook the lead and didn't look back. The final set went to North Mahaska 25-16.

"We'll do what we've always done, work on some drills and on our passing," Becker said.

Mallory Hester and Audrey Grove helped the Lady Bears with some quick points in the loss. Hester recorded two aces, 11 assists and three digs. Grove imposed her height at times, rejecting four North Mahaska shots and also smashing nine kills.

They got the results they wanted when they continued tournament play two days later. English Valleys got a jump start in their first set, facing Tri-County. The Lady Bears determined the pace early, never losing the lead along the way. The first set went to E.V. 25-11.

The momentum gained kept E.V. playing at a high for most of the second set. Another early lead helped the Lady Bears continue to play their style of ball. Tri-County improved their side of things a bit, but still ended up falling 25-16. The next set was the closest yet, a battle the whole way. English Valleys couldn't manage to pull away from the scrappy Trojans, who continued to gain confidence as the score remained close. The Trojans closed it out to get the set win, 26-24.

Any momentum gained for Tri-County was quickly erased by the Lady Bears in the fourth set. E.V. took a large lead, and held on to win 25-10.

"All night long we passed the ball well, which is the key to success," Becker said. "We didn’t get flustered and stayed calm all night long."

Sydney Olson played a big part in the win, tallying 19 digs, 10 kills and one ace. Four aces came off the hand of Hester, while 10 kills came from Grove, who also had another four-block performance.

The win set up a match between the Lady Bears and BGM, who beat Keota to advance. Nothing came easy for either team, as E.V. gritted out a tough five-set victory.

The first set proved that E.V. was playing against a completely different team, while they and BGM were firing on all cylinders when they could. The Lady Bears continued to play their game, eventually taking an important first set 25-21. More of the same was seen in the second, this time E.V. adapted more to the opponent and it showed. A more dominant set for the Lady Bears resulted in a 25-13 win.

Things turned around after that, as BGM made some adjustments which ultimately made a big difference.

"They started tipping us and quit swinging," Becker said. "They did a nice job with that adjustment, hitting some off-speed balls and we were indecisive at times."

Such a major change in play showed on the scoreboard as BGM wound up taking the third and fourth sets 25-20, 25-20. E.V. countered when they needed to most, and Grove stepped up her game to lead a charge in the fifth set.

"You go to your money kid when the game is on the line and let her do what she does well," Becker said. "She got the job done."

The spark by Grove got her team back in it, and the Lady Bears wound up taking the fifth set 15-12. Grove was responsible for 13 kills in the match, and when on defense was equally impressive with seven blocks.

The Lady Bears had some days to recover after the draining tournament, hosting Tri-County on October 17 for the first round of Districts. The winner will face HLV on October 23 at HLV.