Talk to any coach or player involved in sports at a high level and they will likely tell you their goal, above all else, is to play their best in the postseason.
After an up and down regular season full of inconsistent play but flashes of potential, Muscatine did just that and played its best match of the season Wednesday night.
It resulted in an emphatic straight-set win over Burlington, 25-12, 27-25, 25-19, in the first round of the Class 5A Region 3 regional, and the first postseason win for Muscatine since 2013, which also came against Burlington.
“I saw the team I expected to see all year,” Muscatine coach Tim Martin said. “The coaches have always told them they are capable of playing against anybody.”
Martin said before the season he expected the Muskies (6-22) to play scrappy, energetic defense, and that’s exactly what they did on their home floor Wednesday night. Three players reached double figures in digs, with senior Kendi Jones leading the team with 13, while senior Morgan Hogenson added 12 and junior Haley Jarrett had 11. Seniors Paige Miller and Tessa Kerr added nine and seven digs, respectively.
The defensive tone was set early in the match, as the Muskies seemingly tracked down every ball and jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the opening set.
“When it happens to us it’s so frustrating when we seem to be putting the ball in the right spot and the other team just seems to get it,” senior Annabelle Henriksen said. “Our defense was just on the ball the whole game.”
They took it to another level later in the set, as Jarrett went into the first row and avoided a fan to keep a point alive. That rally eventually ended with a block by Henriksen to give them a 21-9 lead, and they went on to win the set.
“Haley (Jarrett) was going crazy getting every ball,” Henriksen said. “I don’t know how she did it.”
“That is the ultimate exclamation point when you see the kids going into the stands to play the ball,” Martin added. “I really can’t say any more other than they just played unbelievable.”
However, it wasn’t just defense that carried the Muskies. Martin said his team executed the game plan to perfection, which was hitting specific serve locations, running a quicker offense and winning in three sets. However, winning in three appeared to be in doubt in the second, when after a back-and-forth set Burlington jumped out to a 20-16 lead. However, unlike most of the season, the Muskies' energy and level of play never dropped off.
Sophomore Hannah Wieskamp sparked a 5-0 Muscatine run with two of her six kills, and after saving two set points Muscatine took the second set, 27-25, off a big serve from Kerr.
“I saw how far they wanted to go in that second game,” Martin said. “We could have gave up, folded and hopefully won the next two.”
Henriksen agreed, and said the biggest difference for the Muskies Wednesday night was they played with energy the entire match. Muscatine cruised to a comfortable 25-19 third set win sealed by one of Miller’s six kills to set up a date with Pleasant Valley Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the regional semifinals.
“I think they showed not only me and the coaches, but hopefully to themselves and the crowd that they’re a strong team,” Martin said. "If they work together and cut down errors you never know. We’re hoping to go to PV and compete.”