Notre Dame switches things up in win over South Division rival Holy Trinity
Matt LevinsThe Hawk Eye
By now everyone who knows anything about volleyball knows about Gabby Deery, including every team Notre Dame High School plays.
The key to the Nikes' success rests in their other players.
That was plenty evident in Tuesday's match against SEI Superconference South Division rival Holy Trinity.
In a rematch from a Class 1A state semifinal match a year ago, the seventh-ranked Nikes got plenty of offense from different players and came away with a 25-23, 25-11, 18-25, 25-16 win over the seventh-ranked Crusaders at Father Minett Gymnasium.
Sure, Deery, the reigning Class 1A player of the Year, pounded down a match-high 23 kills. But it was the players around her that proved to be the difference.
Senior Abby Korschgen, juniors Taryn West and Aviana West and sophomore Madalynn Knapp combined for 25 kills. easing some of the pressure off Deery and keeping the Crusaders' defense guessing.
It was the type of balanced attack that the Nikes are going to need if they are to get back to the state tournament and have a chance to win a third straight state title.
"Everybody wants to stop Gabby," said Stephens, who had five ills from the right side and seemed to be all over the floor on defense. "Everybody's mission is to stop Gabby, so we have to have other people step up so we get them out of system so we have more opportunities."
"They really stepped up," Deery said. "When they step up, we have many options and we can run many different things. That's when we really excel and go to that next level."
"We've got to get more and more and more out of those guys," Notre Dame head coach Mike Davis said. "You could tell as the game went along, Gabby gets gassed because we ask her to do a lot. Abby stepped up big today and made some smart choices. I think she had four kills on pushes to the corner."
Putting the puzzle together
With five seniors graduated from last year's state champions -- all five started at one time or another -- this season has been like putting together a jigsaw puzzle for Davis.
On Tuesday, Davis threw a new wrinkle at the Crusaders which seemed to throw them off for a time. Davis moved Stephens to the right side, put Knapp on the left side and had West anchoring the middle with Deery and Korschgen.
The result --- Stephens, Knapp and West all flourished in their new spots.
"We tried to switch things up because we felt like they knew what we were doing, so we wanted to switch things up to see if that would help," Stephens said.
We switched things up," West said. "We switched up our right side and our offside. I think that worked really well. Maddy (Knapp) had some amazing ups. Taryn had some amazing kills on the right side. I think we had some good swings, especially when Gabby and I ran our offensive plays. I think that works really well."
"They were amazing," Deery said of her teammates. "When we have other options and other people can put that ball down, it makes it really hard on the other team to know where to block and get that block up."
A passing fancy
Passing proved to be a huge difference in the match. Holy Trinity struggled with the Nikes' deep, aggressive serves, which forced sophomore setter Anna Bendlage to move around the court to get passes. That, in turn, made it difficult for Bendlage to put the ball where her hitters want it.
Overpasses were especially costly in the second set, where the Nikes' hitters had a field day on free balls at the net.
"Usually we miss our serves, so we cleaned that up," West said. "That was our goal. That and blocking. We wanted to get our blocking down. I think we did a really good job with our serves."
"Our serving definitely got them out of system," Deery said. "Getting them out of system took away running that middle and not getting those perfect balls up. That makes the defense so much easier on our side."
"We didn't pass as well as we would like to," Holy Trinity head coach Melissa Freesmeier said. "We gave up too many free balls. We want to get our middles going. We were off and on tonight. We've got to be better than that."
A milestone moment
When Holy Trinity's blockers, particularly six-foot freshman middle hitter Presley Myers, started deflecting Deery's powerful kills, she simply went to a roll shot to get around the block.
And with Korschgen helping control the middle, that allowed Deery to swing freely.
"When I was getting blocked on my line shot, I tried to change it up and focus on the spot where they weren't. I had to change my game a little," Deery said.
After the match, Deery was presented with a sign commemorating her 1,000th career kill, which she got Aug. 27 in Bondurant.
"It feels so good," Deery said. "I couldn't have done it without my teammates. They were pushing me in and out of the gym, on the court and off the court. It just feels great."
Young Crusaders still growing
With just three seniors on the roster, Holy Trinity is a work in progress. The hitters are getting used to Bendlage and Myers already is a force to be reckoned with. With former Nebraska All-American Mikaela Foecke on the Crusaders' staff, the sky is the limit for Myers.
"They're getting better every day. It's nice to watch them grow. It's going to be fun to watch these kids get better and better," Freesmeier said. "Our kids have got to find a flow and we'll get there. Anna became our setter last year. She's learning a lot and Natalie (Randolph) is on the sidelines pushing her. I see a lot of good things from (Bendlage) coming up."
On the horizon
Holy Trinity (6-6 overall, 0-2 South Division) travels to Mediapolis on Sept. 13, then hosts Class 2A's fourth-ranked West Burlington on Sept. 15.
Notre Dame (14-3, 2-0) travels to play Class 1A's 15th-ranked New London on Thursday. The Nikes play Saturday in the Lancer Invitational at North Scott where they will face Class 4A's second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier, Class 4A's fifth-ranked North Scott, Illinois power Moline, Class 5A Davenport West and Class 5A's 13th-ranked Bettendorf.
By the numbers
Kills — Gabby Deery 23, Abby Korschgen 11, Aviana West 8, Taryn Stephens 5, Madalynn Knapp 1
Assists — Maddy Mosena 32
Serving aces — Stephens 4, Knapp 3 Deery 2, Emily Stutsman 2, Mosena 1
Blocks — Deery 3, Knapp 2, Korschgen 2
Digs — Knapp 21, Stephens 20, Mosena 13, Ava Parkins 10, Deery 8
Records — Holy Trinity 6-6 overall (0-2 SEI Superconference South Division), Notre Dame 14-3 (2-0)
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA Today Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 32 years at The Hawk Eye. Reach him at email@example.com.