SERGEANT BLUFF | This Sergeant Bluff-Luton team is speeding everything up.
It took the Warriors 30 years to snap its last state tournament drought, but it took SB-L just two seasons to do it this time. Monday night was a blink-and-you-missed-it regional final against Glenwood that ended in just 57 minutes.
Class 4A fourth-ranked SB-L used its size across the front and dominant hitting prowess to turn back the Rams 25-14, 25-9, 25-18 for its 10th straight victory as the Warriors are returning to the postseason for the first time since 2015. It is just the second trip to state for the Warriors in the past 32 seasons and fourth overall.
“This team has been in the regional final the last three years so obviously it has been building been growing,” SB-L Coach Renee Winkel said. “This team has a great work ethic, great attitudes and is such a great group of kids. They work hard and they like each other, which makes it a lot easier.
“For the program it is a growth mindset. We have done it once, OK, it is not a new goal, it is not a new achievement for us. It is constantly challenging the players and the coaches to take things to the next level.”
Six-foot senior Kylee Christensen collected the last of her 10 kills in the match on the final point slamming the ball to the court and jumping up to celebrate with her elated teammates.
“I was pretty determined to put that ball down,” she said. “We worked so hard this season in practice every single day, in the summer with that one goal in mind. We don’t want to just make it to state we want to win at state so we are not done yet.”
SB-L will open the state tournament next Tuesday against a familiar foe in fifth-ranked Bishop Heelan, who downed Le Mars in three sets in their regional final on Monday. The Warriors beat Heelan all three times they played this season en route to winning the regular season and MRAC tournament titles.
The Warriors used their size advantage with three players 6-foot or taller in the lineup in setting the tone in the first set. The Rams struggled with any ball set too close to the net as SB-L sent it back their way.
The Warriors spread the wealth on the attack in the opening set as they had three players record three kills and raced out to an 11-4 lead.
The second set saw the Warriors get up 13-2 and at one point won 10 of 11 points to lead 16-3. Junior Madison Harms, 6-2, had four thunderous kills in the set as she finished with nine on the night.
“Height is definitely an advantage for me because I am able to hit over people,” she said. “They were a really good team, but I thought we swung really well so that kept them out of system and they weren’t able to swing on net.”
Glenwood (17-15), who was led by Brielle Smith’s 10 kills, showed its grit in the final set pulling within two points on a couple of occasions. The Warriors just had too many options as Elle Sneller, 6-foot, had eight kills and 5-11 Kenzie Foley six to go along with Lexi Sneller’s 26 assists.
SB-L (40-3) will hope for a deeper run than the first-round exit to Carroll Kuemper it suffered in four sets two years ago.
If the Warriors are able to find success the five-set victory over Harlan in the regional semifinal may be a match they point to.
“We don’t play a lot of three-out-of-five matches and that is unfortunate because that is what it takes to get to where we want to go,” said Winkel, whose team has played just that one five-setter all season. “The Harlan match was great, a good test for us. The thing I love about this team is that it doesn’t matter what the game is they find a way to win. It was a reality check.”
Both Christensen and Sneller saw significant time during the Warriors' last trip to state. Christensen collected 10 kills while Sneller had 10 assists against Kuemper.
The Warriors' only losses this season have come to 2A second-ranked Western Christian twice and 5A West Des Moines Valley.
The 40-win season is even more impressive given the Warriors were not ranked in the initial poll.
“This is amazing for us, we have been working for this all season and we have been going for it for so long,” Harms said. “It just means so much to us.”