So two Corner Conference teams have made it to the finals of the regional volleyball tournament. It's a really interesting game when you think about it. Put it this way. Stanton has now qualified for the last seven regional finals in a row. They won four of the previous six. The Viqueens simply are the standard by which volleyball is measured in this conference. Now consider they are a substantial underdog.
Sidney has taken over the role as front runner by brute force after years of not being a factor in the conference race or tournament. They were an eyelash from the regional finals last year, losing in five to F-M without he benefit of a consistent senior contributor. The whole team is back with the addition of two freshman that are major contributors. The Cowgirls won both the regular season and the conference tournament without a loss. They didn't even lose a SET to a Corner team until last night. Their record is 31-1, with the only loss being to a strong 2A team. Stanton sports a more modest 22-15 record and entered the tournament essentially unseeded.
Sidney has swept Stanton without incident both times they have met this season. The Cowgirls have the best player in the conference in Lexy Larsen, as well freshman Camryn McClintock who is the head coach’s daughter and fourth overall in kills this conference season. You can't really just focus on one of the two. Pick your poison or play them both straight up. Neither seems like a great option.
Sidney also has one of the most athletic back rows I have ever seen, and the Cowgirls overall ability to pass, hit and set accurately away from the net is what really sets them apart. Mackenzie Daffer just went over the career 1000 assist mark, and she also led the conference in ace serves this year. McClintock and Jaden Daffer (also a freshman) both have over 200 digs this season. Larsen, Macknzie Daffer and Quinn Sheldon all have over 100.
Furthermore, if you do find a way to cope with Larsen and McClintock, Cassidy Hobbie, Kenna Nenneman, Mackenzie Daffer, Ashley Focht and Mackenzie Hulsing all have hitting percentages over .150 with Focht over .300 albeit on far fewer swings. They have team chemistry. Sidney truly looks like its having fun during games. From the looks on their faces during games it might as well be rec league sand volleyball.
The former coach in me can see that this team has “it”. I can't define “it” but if you have spent a long time around high school athletics you know exactly what I mean. But what makes this game so interesting to me is that so does Stanton.
Throw out the record. Sure the Queens have 15 losses, but look more closely at the record. They haven't lost toa 1A team not named Sidney since the last week of September when they fell 3-2 to Essex. The loss has been avenged twice including 3-1 win in the second round of regionals. No one wants to see Stanton in the playoffs. No one.
The Queens have been criminally underrated the last two seasons and have responded with two trips to the regional finals. When will we learn? They were given VERY little chance against Mount Ayr. Pressure? The girls on this team have never NOT played in a regional final. If you look at the list of teams Stanton has played in the post season in recent history you know they aren't afraid of Sidney, no matter how good the Cowgirls are.
As easy as it is to like Sidney on paper, so many things give you butterflies if you are backing the Cowgirls in this game. The Queens have a hot hand right now in Chelsea Weis, who will swing for you until her arm falls off if necessary. She leads the entire free world in attempts this season with 981, but a group of hitters have emerged around her.
Ally Focht, Brandy Morrison and Savanna Moffett all have over 100 kills. Focht, Morrison and Jody Vanderholm all have over 50 blocks. Devin Druivenga, Weis and Focht lead the defense and this is pretty much the lynch pin to the whole thing. Stanton is going to get a brutal test on defense. There can be no question that there is too big of a gap there for the Viqueens to be able to compete on a season long basis, but they don't have to win for two month. They only need hold up for two hours, and that's a completely different proposition.
Post season sports are just a different animal. Pressure does strange things to people. Packed gyms change the very atmosphere the game is played in. Every mistake is amplified. Every success is rewarded with thunderous positive reinforcement. Mount Ayr simply melted in the glare of the hot lights last night, while Stanton grew stronger and stronger.
Sidney isn't invincible. F-M proved that by taking a set last night in the Cowgirl's own gym. Yeah, it's a big leap from that to Stanton taking three sets from them. It's also a big game, a team with a big tradition and a big heart getting a shot on neutral turf
The best part for me I guess is no matter who wins it's a great story. You either get the charismatic Cowgirl's, who light up every gym they are in, or the old guard Stanton who has been repeatedly disrespected the last two seasons coming home to claim the crown. Someone is going to state, that's a guarantee.