HULL, Iowa | Things seemed a little spooky at times for the two-time defending Class 2A state volleyball champions Tuesday night.
Credit the competitiveness of Central Lyon, a program that had reached the state tournament in each of the four previous years. The Lions reached the 1A state level from 2013-15 and a year ago were among three Northwest Iowa 2A state entries, joining Unity Christian and Western Christian.
Central Lyon stayed well within range of Western Christian on Halloween night at Boyden-Hull High School. However, the Lions defense had frightening moments when the tallest girl on the court, 6-foot-2 Western middle hitter Ashtyn Veerbeek, took the floor.
Veerbeek had 20 kills and four blocks as the No. 2-ranked Wolfpack reached the 2A state tournament for the 17th straight year following a 25-19, 25-18, 25-13 triumph in front of a capacity crowd. Western Christian will take a 37-6 record into next Wednesday’s first-round match at Cedar Rapids’ U.S. Cellular Center against Iowa City Regina (28-8).
Following consecutive kills from the Lions’ Bailey Herman and Brecken Boekhout, Veerbeek had two straight kills of her own to tie the set and launch Tori Wynja’s six-point serving run. Veerbeek then blocked a Boekhout kill attempt for a 4-2 lead and from there, one of the state’s traditional powers in the sport never trailed.
“(Central Lyon) is a great team, super scrappy and just didn’t let things hit the floor,” said the daughter of veteran Western Christian volleyball coach Tammi Veerbeek. “That’s just what a good team does, they play great defense and don’t let the ball hit the floor. But I think our strength at the net overpowered them tonight.
“When I come in there, I try to get as many points as possible to get us the lead and when other girls come in, I know they’ll do their job to keep the lead. When you’re up in the middle, you have to see the block. No matter if I let left or right, I’m looking for open holes. It’s the easiest way to get a kill. It doesn’t need to be the hardest hit. I just have to put it in the right spot.”
Jessi DeJager added nine kills and three blocks for Western Christian. Setters Olivia Granstra amd Wynja contributed 22 and 10 assists, respectively, for a squad that never trailed in the first set, but Central Lyon’s Elle Petersen (5 kills, 2 blocks) helped her team not only force five Game 2 ties, but combined with Boekhout on a block of Veerbeek to pull within 13-12 in that set.
Coach Veerbeek then watched her daughter take over again. The University of Nebraska basketball recruit, who leads Class 2A with 506 kills and 124 blocks, had two straight kills and teamed up with Granstra on a block of Sutton Schlumbohm for a 17-12 lead.
“You know what, this is her fourth year of being on this team and her third as a varsity starter,” said Coach Veerbeek. “She knows what it takes. We knew this was going to be our last ride together and I’m proud of her. She’s stepped up as a leader and said, we’re going to do this. She wanted the ball. She has that kind of mentality.”
Madison Hofman led the Lakes Conference champions with 18 digs. Granstra added three blocks for a team that will aim for a three-peat, a feat that will be challenged by No. 1 Dike-New Hartford (47-3), last year’s 3A champion that has moved back to 2A.
Faith Henrichs had three kills and two blocks for Central Lyon (24-9) while setter Kiley Metzger had 14 assists. Libero Nikki Bloemendaal finished with 17 digs.
“I felt like it was a hard-fought battle on our end,” said Central Lyon Coach Jamie Schar. “Central Lyon volleyball is known for defense. I felt like we were a little sluggish on that tonight. We talked about how we needed to delay on Ashtyn and I felt like we were struggling to find the groove with that. She’s a great hitter.
“It’s important to note that we played the second-ranked team which is a great program and we hung with them those first two sets,” she added. “We have a lot of young players and good senior leadership. Central Lyon volleyball isn’t done making those trips to Cedar Rapids. We have a lot of good fundamental skills, good athleticism and a lot of good talent coming up.”