CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | There’s not much of a break for Alexis Toering and her Sioux Center volleyball teammates because Monday, practice begins for the team that was the runner-up in last March’s Iowa Class 3A girls state basketball tournament.
During the week at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament, Toering had several memorable moments, the top one of course, advancing to the title match at U.S. Cellular Center. It was a week of firsts for the state’s top-ranked team, the first state tournament triumph, the first five-game match of the season, but unfortunately, the wrong ending to the first-ever state championship appearance.
“It was really great being here the entire week,” said Toering, who had nine kills and 12 digs in a 25-21, 25-20, 25-21 loss to No. 3 Waterloo Columbus. “Definitely unexplored territory, I guess you could say, from a volleyball standpoint. I think it was everything we could have asked for. It was fun being here with my teammates.”
Sioux Center, which ended the season with a 34-6 record, had one of the more experienced teams in the 3A field. A Northwestern basketball recruit, Toering was one of five seniors from the squad on the floor along with setter (and Dordt basketball recruit) Jordyn VanMaanen (22 assists, 5 kills, 7 digs, 3 blocks, 1 ace serve), outside hitters Camryn Cleveringa (5 kills, 5 digs) and Shayla Post (4 digs, 2 ace serves, 1 block) plus libero Jade Erdman (5 digs).
“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids,” said Sioux Center Coach Julie Oldenkamp. “You know, the worst part of the day is not the loss, but the last time you get to coach a great group like this. You don’t get groups like this very often. There’s 11 seniors on the squad, some are players, some are managers and they’re special friends and they’ve been great leaders for the underclassmen on our roster.”
Sioux Center was coming off Thursday’s five-game semifinal win over Osage. Columbus (36-8) also experienced a five-game victory, defeating No. 2 Carroll Kuemper, a team that fell to the Siouxland Conference champions on Sept. 23 at the Unity Christian Tournament.
Neither team seemed seemed fazed by the marathon matches. Sioux Center jumped off to a 12-5 Game 1 lead, but Columbus quickly changed momentum and took charge offensively, forcing the Warriors to play more offense than they would have liked.
“We didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to,” said Oldenkamp. “It starts with the serving. Early in the first set, we did execute well. We were off to a great start. We were serving tough and (Columbus) was out of system and that was exactly the game plan we had strategized.
“Then things turned not as well for us. Our serving wasn’t strong, then you turn and play a lot of defense. We knew that was going to be trouble with a great player like (Anna) Sinott. We had what we thought would work for a game plan, but we didn’t execute it like we would have liked.”
Anna Sinott, the captain of the 3A All-Tournament Team (an honor squad that included Toering and her Sioux Center teammate VanMaanen), pounded 24 kills for the Sailors, who sailed to their 28th sweep of the season. Avery Kroll added 11 kills for the runner-up team of the North Iowa Cedar League, which rallied from a 10-7 Game 3 deficit to claim the school’s first-ever state title in the sport.
“We knew (Sioux Center) was going to come hard and we knew they had a lot of powerful hitters coming our way, so we knew if we just stuck together and work together as a team we could make it happen,” said Sinott. “That’s what we did. We just worked hard. Our hard work all season has really brought us to this moment. It’s what got us here.”
Sioux Center never led in Game 2, but had promising moments in Game 3. Two consecutive Toering kills produced a 10-7 lead and after Columbus rallied for a 10-10 tie, junior middle blocker Alyssa Mulder (8 kills, 3 blocks) snapped the deadlock with a kill, then combined with Post for a block of Sydney Schultz for a 12-10 lead.
Columbus later bounced back from a 15-14 deficit to score five straight points that translated to a lead it never lost.
“They were just a team that really executed well,” said Toering, who played for four straight teams that were 9-0 in the Siouxland Conference. “One of the strengths our team has is offense and how quick we are to play the ball. I think in this game in particular, we spent a lot of time playing defense. Columbus hit really well and not being able to get the ball back set us apart.”