History made as Van Meter volleyball punches first-ever ticket to state

Andrew Brown
Dallas County News

History was officially made on Wednesday in Stuart as the Van Meter volleyball team captured the regional title win against Underwood. 

The win provided the 12th-ranked Bulldogs a ticket to the Class 2A state tournament for the first time in program history. That came courtesy of a wild five-set victory over ninth-ranked Underwood. 

"It's a whirlwind of emotions but I could not be more proud of this team right now," said head coach Sara Cook following the win. "They really showed their integrity and that they had a lot of fight in them."   

Emma Braun sets up the offense for Van Meter during the regional final against Underwood in Stuart.

A whirlwind of a game it sure was as it took all five sets to complete the victory and it had to be done in comeback fashion for Van Meter. The Bulldogs ended up edging out the set one victory while maintaining a slim lead throughout. A 7-6 advantage turned to a 14-12 lead and after a 4-1 run, a 25-22 opening set win. 

Then the Bulldogs hit some turbulent skies as the high-flying Eagles captured the following two sets. Set two actually began with a 3-1 lead which shrank to a 7-5 deficit quickly. Tied 13-13 was the last time Van Meter held a tie or the lead in the set, one in which Underwood claimed a 25-23 victory. The momentum really shifted in favor of the Eagles when they jumped out to a 12-9 set three lead. A 13-8 Underwood run put the momentum in their favor as set three put Van Meter on the brink of elimination, down 2-1. 

The vast majority of the fourth set held an Underwood advantage as the Bulldogs seemingly couldn't get within one point of an Eagle lead through the first 30 combined points scored. Once Van Meter tied things up at 15-15 in that fourth set, it was off to the races as both teams exchanged points back and forth until the 20-20 tie.

Sidney Nelson with a strike over the net against Underwood on Wednesday, Oct. 28 during the regional title match in Stuart.

Thanks to a strong serving attack and play at the net, the Bulldogs cracked their first lead of the set at 21-20, something they would never look back from. With senior Emma Braun at the serving helm, Van Meter outscored Underwood 5-3 and evened up the match score and the momentum with a 25-23 set four win. 

"We knew they were outside heavy and they were going to keep attacking from the outside," said Cook. "We knew we needed to make adjustments as to where we needed to go, where Norah needed to be in that back row because to get that dig because they kept hitting cross at her, and what our block needed to be. We knew if we kept swinging, it kept going well for us." 

Van Meter came storming into the fifth and final set, and despite a 3-3 tie early, dominated the finale that jumped to 6-4 and 12-5 all the way to win the third set and the match 15-10. 

"We just knew we had to leave it all on the court," began senior Norah Matt. "We knew we had to fight for every single point and we were going to outwork that team to get to where we are right now. We did that."  

It was somewhat fitting as the win to go to state for the first time ever came in the first five-set match of 2020 for the Bulldogs. The closest Van Meter came to a five-set match was back on Sept. 29 in a four-set win over Pleasantville. 

"Just craziness, I cannot believe we pulled it off," Matt said following Wednesday's win. "Looking back we could not have done it if we weren't the team that we are. We needed to hit hard, scramble for every ball, and we knew we needed to bring the energy and we picked it up as high as we could." 

The win gives the Bulldogs their 13th consecutive victory which marks the longest streak for the Bulldogs in over five years. It also marks as the second-best winning streak among state-bound teams in Class 2A. 

"We have some really smart girls on this team and they know how to mix up their shots, how to find the line, how to get the cross," began Cook. "Putting it all together to keep the other team guessing was great. Nothing really comes close to this as a coach. Last year it felt as they were still adjusting to me as a coach but going into this season they knew what that was going to look like." 

Now the Bulldogs are state-bound as they take to Cedar Rapids for the first time in program history. They will enter Class 2A's tournament as the seventh-seeded team and will play  second-seeded Wilton (32-3). Their battle with the Beavers will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, on court number two.

The Van Meter volleyball bench erupting in cheers as the Bulldogs took the set four win on Wednesday, Oct. 28 during the regional title match against Underwood