AFTON — Tuesday featured a roller coaster of emotion for both East Union volleyball and its visitors, the Mount Ayr Raiderettes. East Union came out the more euphoric bunch, roaring back from down two sets to claim victory, 13-25, 17-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-12.
None of EU’s four seniors had notched a win over Mount Ayr in volleyball, so Tuesday was a rousing accomplishment. The victory marked EU’s first over Mount Ayr since 2013.
The match normally would most years have counted as a Pride of Iowa matchup, but East Union moved to the East from the West this season.
“It boosts our confidence,” Eagles junior Rakenzy Pryor said. “We can easily beat all the other teams if we beat Mount Ayr. They’re big competition. So are all the other ones, but we know we can go up against big competition.”
The Raiderettes looked to be in a groove early, as Sam Stewart came out swinging thanks to the timely setting of Hayley Whittington (22 assists) and Jaycee Knight (17 assists). Stewart ended up with 17 kills. Keirston Klommhaus also got in the groove with 14 kills, much of them coming in the first two sets and in the final set.
Mount Ayr continually smashed through and around the blocks East Union set up.
“The first two games, we were making them work hard on defense and that was our goal tonight,” Mount Ayr coach Tori Braby said. “We know they had good hitters so we had to make them work on the defensive end.”
Changing up its defensive approach was the focus of the break, following a second-set loss for East Union.
“We really had to make adjustments on our defense and our blocking,” East Union coach Gail Thatcher said. “We had to move and take out the line on them because we weren’t getting the block closed on the angle. So we changed that up and that really changed the momentum of the game, pushing the libero Callie (Gossman), Jaden (Welcher) and Mikala (Sanson), over on that side of the court, being able to bring those balls up and giving us a chance to get back and attack.”
The aforementioned group of back row players earned Thatcher’s praise for what they did over the next three sets. They dug up Mount Ayr’s attacks, jump-starting the Eagles’ offense in the process, and served efficiently and intelligently while combining to go 49-51 on serves between the three of them (EU was 79 of 87 on serves overall).
That played right into the hands of Alissa Weinkoetz and Pryor. Weinkoetz began pounding the volleyball to the Raiderettes’ end of the floor, as she walloped 20 kills and totaled five solo blocks and six assisted denials. Pryor posted nine kills, four solo blocks and eight assisted blocks.
“We were like, we’re not going down with a big loss like this. We’re not going to just hand it to them. We pulled something out and got it together,” Pryor said.
The energy provided by the two hitters led EU to jump to a 17-9 lead on an Olivia Cheers serving run before Mount Ayr swung the score all the way back to 24-21, but EU made the necessary plays and Anna Collins tapped the winning ball to the floor to close the third.
The squads traded blows in the fourth, as Megan Mitchell chased down setting chances to boost her total to 27 with Weinkoetz and Pryor getting the best of Mount Ayr’s powerful hitting duo of Stewart and Klommhaus.
Several powerful Weinkoetz kills and a block sealed the deal in the fourth.
Mount Ayr, playing in its first 5-set match of the season, began to click offensively by getting the ball to Klommhaus, but EU raced back and overtook the Raideretes thanks to several more winners and blocks from Pryor. That big defensive improvement proved the vital change in the tumultuous match.
“We started getting our block down and (it gave) us a chance to dig that defensive ball back up and (get) touches on it,” Thatcher said.
Where Mount Ayr saw things come apart was by not forcing EU to work extra hard to get into system.
“You have to make a good team work, and that’s how we fell apart,” Braby said, noting that she was happy to see her team get caught in a battle.
UP NEXT — Mount Ayr (4-2, 2-0 in the POI), will play in a tournament at Des Moines Christian Thursday. East Union (9-6, 1-0) plays at Earlham in a triangular Thursday.
East Union 3, Mount Ayr 2
Serving (aces) — MA: Sam Stewart 22-23 (5), Hayley Whittington 20-21 (5), Keirston Klommhaus 18-19, Jaycee Knight 15-19 (1), MacKenzie Shields 13-13, Maddie Stewart 13-14 (1). EU: Callie Gossman 19-19, Jayden Welcher 16-16, Megan Mitchell 12-12 (1), Mikala Sanson 14-16 (1), Olivia Cheers 13-16 (1), Alissa Weinkoetz 5-8 (1).
Kills — MA: Sam Stewart 17, Klommhaus 14, Channler Henle 7, Whittington 2, Shields 2. EU: Weinkoetz 20, Rakenzy Pryor 9, Anna Collins 2, Welcher 2, Alex Riley 1, Mitchell 1.
Blocks (solo, assists) — MA: Henle (2,2), Whittington (1,0), Knight (0,1), Shields (0-1). EU: Pryor (4,8), Weinkoetz (5,6), Mitchell (0,6), Cheers (0,3), Riley (0,1).
Setting (assists) — MA: Whittington 22, Knight 17. EU: Mitchell 27, Weinkoetz 1, Sanson 1, Riley 1.
Digs — MA: Klommhaus 19, Sam Stewart 15, Maddie Stewart 12, Whittington 12, Knight 6, Shields 2. EU: Gossman 21, Mitchell 13, Welcher 10, Sanson 8, Cheers 8, Weinkoetz 7, Quinn Eslinger 2, Riley 1.