Van Meter volleyball claims regular-season finale win over Woodward-Granger

Sean Cordy

There seems to always be something on the line when Woodward-Granger crosses paths with Van Meter. For Thursday night's volleyball match between the Hawks (11-14) and Bulldogs (16-3), third place in the West Central Conference was on the line just as it was last year prior to their eventual combat in the playoffs.

"It's always for that third place position in the conference. It's always about who's gonna fight above to get to that point," Van Meter head coach Sara Cook said. "Everyone's trying to play their best and I feel like both have some really strong players on our teams. It's whoever can truly fight through and earn that."

After a series of wins that went into extra points with Van Meter escaping 26-24 and 30-28, it was the Bulldogs that had that extra spark to flip the script after losing 6-3 over the course of the two matchups with Woodward last season. It wasn't until the third round Thursday which the Bulldogs found any true separation against the Hawks and won 25-16 for the trifecta win on Senior Night.

Emma Braun gets the ball over the net for Van Meter on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Naturally, Van Meter's eldest stateswomen had some prime performances as Emma Braun led the team with 21 assists for her second most of the season while Sidney Nelson contributed 19 more for her season-high mark. Nelson also added 10 kills and 14 digs to her stat line, the first time this season she hit double digits in all three categories.

Her work wasn't limited to merely bulk production either as she came through in the clutch with a game-tying 25-25 kill to prevent Woodward from eking out a win in the second set as the Hawks' unique play style gave the Bulldogs fits early on.

Sidney Nelson works to block a Woodward-Granger player on Oct. 15.

Cook said it's not common to see teams play from the back row as often as the Hawks do with the likes of Natalie Weaver and Elly Polich opposed to set-ups entirely to the outside, so "adjusting to that took a little bit."

Polich left the game with 13 kills while Weaver contributed 10 to her line. Beyond the duo's work as offensive hitters, Grace Deputy blocked a career-high five times as well to help further close the gap. And from a defensive point of view, the team's 67 digs were the most since the season opener with showcases from Nixon (20), Weaver (17), Polich (14) and Audrey Simmons (14).

Zoie Vaught with a strike against Woodward-Granger on Thursday, Oct. 15.

That combined effort wasn't quite enough to curb Van Meter's control at the net as the Bulldogs erupted for 43 total kills led by Abby Matt (12), Nelson (10) and Zoie Vaught (10). That combined effort only trailed the team's production against West Central Valley.

"We have some very strong hitters this year," Cook said. "We are a team that luckily this year, there's not just one pillar that we rely on which is kind of where we were last year. This year we're able to split it up."

Van Meter will look to even out that workload even further on Wednesday, Oct. 21 as the Bulldogs take on either Interstate-35 or Central Decatur in quarterfinal action. The Hawks take on Madrid that same night at home.

Van Meter players come together after a point against Woodward-Granger on Thursday, Oct. 15.