CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | “Beat It”, the 1983 smash hit from pop singer Michael Jackson, was blaring at the U.S. Cellular Center when Tammi Veerbeek met with her Western Christian volleyball team during the breaks between the second and third games Friday afternoon.
Western Christian did beat the volleyball, destined not to be defeated by the powerful Dike-New Hartford squad that had steamrolled to 12 consecutive sweeps heading into the Class 2A state tournament final. Ashtyn Veerbeek set the tone with a kill that produced a 4-1 lead early in the third set.
Dike-New Hartford hit just as hard, if not harder. Outside hitter and University of Northern Iowa recruit Baylee Petersen pounded 16 kills while middle hitter Amber Rickert added 12 as the top-ranked squad boasted .350 kill efficiency in the 25-15, 25-21, 25-17 title sweep over the Wolfpack.
The two Iowa volleyball powers, which have met six times in 2A state title matches (five won by Dike-New Hartford), didn’t meet at U.S. Cellular a year ago because Coach Diane Harms’ squad won the Class 3A state title. Western Christian lost in its attempt to score a third consecutive 2A crown.
“I think it all starts in practice,” said the daughter of UNI volleyball coach Bobbie Petersen. “Just the drills that Coach Harms has us do, starting with the passing, the serve receive and all that stuff. That helps get us in transition. Madison (Hedges) sets up balls that we can swing really hard at. It’s really fun playing with all of them because we know we can put the ball down.”
En route to the program’s 13th state championship, third on the state’s all-time list behind Dubuque Wahlert (19) and Western Christian (16), Morgan Weber contributed 11 kills for a squad that dominated the first two sets.
“We have a lot of good hitters we can use at different times depending where our passing goes,” said Harms following her 838th career win, 573 at Dike-New Hartford. “If we’re passing well, we’re able to use our middles a little bit more and when we get in trouble it’s because we can’t get our middles going.”
“Dike, wow, they have such great ball control,” said Coach Veerbeek, whose team received 11 and nine kills, respectively, from Ashtyn Veerbeek and Jessi De Jager, both whom were selected to the 2A All-Tournament Team.
“Their passing is just top notch. They just don’t make mistakes. We knew we were in for a very deep battle here with them. We knew we had to play a perfect game to beat them. They’re very dynamic. I have the utmost respect for their program.”
The two schools met in a state final for the first time since 2014 when the Wolverines posted a 3-1 victory. Western Christian began the intense series with a sweep in the 2008 2A final. Dike-New Hartford’s only sweep in the rivalry prior to Friday, came in 2011.
“This was a lot of fun because of their rivalry with us,” said Petersen. “We don’t see them at all during the season, but we know if we keep winning at state, we’ll probably see them. We didn’t (expect a sweep). We knew they’d be tough games. Staying in system a lot and digging up balls no matter what, staying with the play, that was the key.”
Ashtyn Veerbeek, the Class 2A leader in both kills and blocks, scored a kill that launched a four-point run early in Game 3. Shortly after following with a kill, senior right side hitter Cori De Jong dug up a Petersen kill attempt which De Jager picked up and promptly slammed for a 9-3 advantage.
Dike-New Hartford roared back to tie the game 12-all on a block of a kill attempt from Dordt volleyball recruit De Jager. It launched an 8-1 run that propelled the Wolverines to a lead they never lost.
Olivia Granstra, one of two starting setters in Western Christian’s 6-2 offense, dished 15 assists. Madison Hofman had a team-high 11 kills while Veerbeek, in the final volleyball match of her high school career, had two solo blocks and one block assist.
Veerbeek finished her prep career with 1,029 career kills. Considering the fact that she’ll begin her collegiate basketball career at the University of Nebraska in a year, her mother was asked if she’ll conclude her volleyball post at the Sioux County school.
“It’s a good question, you’re not the first who has wondered it,” said Tammi Veerbeek, who prior to the match received the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s Volleyball Golden Plaque of Distinction Award, honoring an individual who has 886 career wins, 829 at Western Christian along with 10 career state tournament championships, one shy of Tom Keating, the former Dubuque Wahlert coach.
“Her season at Nebraska will be opposite of volleyball. To have her go to Nebraska and for me to give up my passion for 22 years would be too much of a shock to my life. So I’m going to do it next year and we’ll see from there.”