HULL, Iowa | Three weeks ago, someone from one of the teams at the Waukee Tournament asked Kylee Christensen where Sergeant Bluff-Luton was located.
The question came from one of the teams that was upset by that unknown Northwest Iowa team that on the way to a runner-up finish at the 10-team tournament, defeated three Class 5A state-ranked teams – Ankeny, Indianola and Waukee. The Warriors’ game plan for the tournament was simply just to get better by facing outstanding competition.
“We were definitely the underdog going into that tournament,” said Christensen, a 6-foot middle blocker from Sergeant Bluff-Luton during a break at Saturday’s Kaemingk-Kooima Classic held at Western Christian High School.
“I don’t know how many teams asked, where is Sergeant Bluff? It was an incredible experience because we came in with no expectations and we ended up shocking a lot of people, playing those ranked teams. We were so together and we played so hard, every single point and found success in that.”
Sergeant Bluff-Luton has benefited from facing top-notch competition over the last month, defeating nine state-ranked teams at various tournaments, including the Kaemingk-Kooima Classic, where five of the teams were ranked. Unity Christian (2A) and Bishop Heelan (4A), two perennial battle-tested teams and state tournament participants, were the latest of those ranked teams the 4A No. 6 Warriors have defeated thus far in the marvelous 30-3 season.
Christensen likes these tournaments because they’ve made the Warriors not only better, but closer to each other in terms of chemistry and conditioning. Western Christian has a long-standing tradition of traveling to out-of-state tournaments such as the Bellevue West Classic where veteran coach Tammi Veerbeek’s squad posted a 3-3 mark for the second straight year. Bishop Heelan began the season going 1-3 at the Ankeny Classic.
Coaches and players alike from these successful squads feel their teams benefit from tournaments such as these where the quality of teams is high. Losses may occur along the way. Teams like Western Christian make adjustments after experiencing a Game 1 pool play loss to defeat Bishop Heelan and vice-versa.
The bottom line, tournaments such as these prepare teams for the upcoming regional tournament, which incidentally for 1A and 2A schools begin Oct. 17. The next night, 3A through 5A teams begin postseason play in preparation for the state tournament.
“First of all (athletes) see the level of play that the best teams in the state are and the coaches see things where (other teams) expose our weaknesses,” said Bishop Heelan Coach Mary Miller. “We get a bench mark for what we need to work on in practice if we want to get better.
“Oh, we mind losses, like that three-set loss to (Western Christian). We were right there in that second set. Like I told our kids, we had won 20 of 21, then we lost to (Western Christian), so maybe this was a good loss for us. Then, when we were down by six to Bondurant in the second set, our mentality was, we’re not going to set three. We’re going to come back. Fortunately, things turned out really well. Then the kids say, we can come back from a deficit of six points.”
Sergeant Bluff-Luton hosts Heelan in a matchup of 5-0 Missouri River Activities Conference teams Tuesday night. Then on Saturday, Miller’s squad hosts the annual Heelan Classic, where Western Christian is among the participating teams, a list that also includes Class 3A No. 1 Sioux Center and Unity Christian.
“We really value the tournaments we play in,” said Veerbeek. “Bellevue West’s tournament is just phenomenal volleyball. We’ve been 3-3 there the last two years, but I would do it every weekend because right out of the bat, it shows you what you are made of and what you need to improve on. We go to South Dakota to play in the Pentagon, which is a beautiful arena. We go to Urbandale to play 5A schools.
“I’m pleased with our schedule because every opportunity we have to compete on a high level, it prepares us for the end of the year. We are 2A. We strive to play the biggest and the best. We’re not afraid of losses. I’m just worried about getting better.”
One of Western Christian’s most enjoyable matches this season was actually, a defeat. University of Nebraska commit Madi Kubik had 15 kills and seven digs as 5A No. 2 West Des Moines Valley defeated the Wolfpack 27-25, 25-23 in the finals of the Urbandale Tournament.
“She was really big, tall and she could jump,” said Western Christian middle hitter Jessi DeJager. “She played front row, back row, she did back row attacks. We knew we had to stick with her wherever she went, whether she was on the outside or the back row.
“We love the great competition,” she added. “These teams push us to do our best and prepare us for what’s to come down the road, like state. We rise up to the competition when we play those teams.”