HULL, Iowa | Shortly before her mother called out to her to arrange a family photograph with the recently-won Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union banner that represented Western Christian’s 17th consecutive Class 2A state volleyball tournament appearance, Ashtyn Veerbeek tried to answer a difficult question.
Can the two-time defending 2A state champions three-peat?
Western Christian’s traditional volleyball juggernaut has done it three times before. The feat was last accomplished in 2008 when Brittany Landegent and Steph Fykstra each pounded 14 kills in a 3-0 title-match sweep over Dike-New Hartford.
Veerbeek, a 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter, leads 2A with 506 kills and 124 blocks heading into Wednesday's 2 p.m. first-round match at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. There, No. 2-ranked Western Christian (37-6) will face No. 11 Iowa City Regina (28-8).
“Winning a state championship is hard on its own,” said Veerbeek, following a 20-kill, four-block performance in a Region 1 Finals sweep over a determined Central Lyon squad at Boyden-Hull High School.
“Going for a three-peat is tough. There are great teams in 2A. I think we are capable of doing it if we play our best volleyball. We’re going to go to work and to be the best we can for these matches.”
Tammi Veerbeek will tie the record of 11 team championships with longtime Dubuque Wahlert coach Tom Keading if the second-seeded Wolfpack win Friday afternoon’s title match.
En route to a career that has seen her post an outstanding 827-90-9 record in 19 years at the Sioux County high school, Veerbeek won a streak of four straight 2A titles from 2001-04. She began another stretch of three consecutive 2A title wins with a come-from-behind 3-2 triumph over Waterloo Columbus in 2006.
Incidentally, former coach Tom Van Den Bosch also guided Western Christian to 2A titles in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
Each of the state’s top six ranked teams are participants this week, including last year’s 3A state champion Dike-New Hartford (47-3), which moved down to 2A this season. The Wolverines began a streak of four 2A title wins over Western Christian in 2011.
“Winning a state title takes a lot,” said Coach Veerbeek, whose team could face No. 3 Grundy Center (36-6) in the semifinals. “You need to have the right things line up for you. It takes a good draw at state. We have a good draw. We’re a No. 2 seed, which is a good seed. We are healthy. Injuries can happen, but you never know what can come up in an instant. You have to be mentally tough to go there and compete hard for three days where everyone wants that big trophy and everyone brings their best volleyball out there.
“The girls I have, they’re 15, 16 and 17. All they’ve known is Western Christian going to state and Western Christian playing in a championship match. They grew up desiring that and wanting that. Western Christian thrives in that environment. We hope this group rises up and does the same as the past teams.”
Veerbeek’s daughter, who’s verbally committed to playing basketball at the University of Nebraska, is hitting .386 while averaging 4.87 kills per game. Dordt volleyball recruit Jessi De Jager, a 6-1 senior middle hitter, is hitting .313, averages 2.66 kills per game and has 274 kills.
Veerbeek, for the first time in her Western Christian coaching era, is operating a 6-2 offense. Two sophomore setters are in the controls, 5-8 Olivia Granstra (587 kills, 251 digs) and 5-9 Tori Wynja (376 assists, 233 digs).
Both are left-handed hitters who have combined for 100 kills. Granstra impressed the veteran coach when she floated from the right side with a kill that fooled the defense of the Central Lyon squad, which by the way, was aiming for a fifth consecutive state berth heading into the regional final.
“We wanted to implement both in the scheme, they have done it well and I’m happy with the way things turned out,” said Coach Veerbeek. “It took time (for the hitters) at the beginning of the year for the hitters to adjust. Each setter has a different way of setting. We worked with it in the preseason, so now, we’re totally on the same page. The hitters have adjusted to the 6-2 and are doing it well.”
Six-foot senior right side Cori De Jong has 177 kills. The Wolfpack’s rotation also includes 5-8 junior Madison Hofman (124 kills, 319 blocks), 5-6 junior libero Emma Bousema (357 digs) and 5-8 junior defensive specialist Chandler Schemper (294 digs).
Iowa City Regina is making just its third state volleyball appearance and first since 2013. Alex Wiese has a team-best 359 kills and incidentally, scored 22 points in the squad’s 71-49 loss to Western Christian in last season’s 2A state basketball semifinals, a game where Ashtyn Veerbeek muscled her way to 31 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
“The fact that we’ve been there so many times (is a strength), even if this is a young team,” said Ashtyn Veerbeek. “We know what it’s like to be down there and we’ll use that to our advantage. If teams can’t get us out of system, we’ll be able to run our offense and we’ll be really hard to stop.”