BETTENDORF, Iowa − A week after displaying confidence and poise in a three-set sweep over Burlington in its regional opener, the Muscatine volleyball team never managed to fight through early nerves in a semifinal loss to Pleasant Valley on Tuesday.
It was hard to predict how the Muskies would react after winning their first postseason match since 2013, but after a strong week of practice and a chance to learn from the team’s season-opening sweep to the Spartans, coach Tim Martin thought his team would be ready to go.
Serving errors, nine to be exact, and struggles passing the ball cost the Muskies as Pleasant Valley earned a 25-19, 25-18, 25-18 sweep.
“What I saw was nerves I think at first,” Martin said. “Coming in and playing here, I think they were just a little wired up, ready to get started, I think they were probably overplaying some times. And then we had a few errors and they would start second-guessing themselves.
"Bottom line, you've got to give it to PV," Martin said. "They played strong like they have all conference (season) long. I think it would take a really good effort for us to pull off that win and come out of here with a victory."
Despite falling behind to start each set, Muscatine strung together big rallies at multiple moments throughout the night, going on two 4-0 runs in the first set, and a 5-0 run in the second set. But every time the Muskies battled back to within a point or tied a set, Pleasant Valley had an answer, never giving away the lead the entire match.
“We’ve struggled with consistency all year,” said Muskie senior Tessa Kerr, who led the team in serving aces with three and was second on the team in kills with four. “There were a couple moments where we got down and then tried to fight back, but PV’s a good team.”
One of the clearest advantages for the Spartans was size. While the Pleasant Valley roster lists five players over 6 feet tall and only three players 5 feet 6 inches or shorter, Muscatine has just four players over 5 feet 6 inches and one player who’s 6 feet tall.
Because of that size, a strength for the Spartans all season long has been attacking the ball, as they led the Mississippi Athletic Conference in kills per set this season with 11.6. PV freshman Emily Wood had a match-high 10 kills Tuesday night, while senior Paige Miller paced the Muskies with eight kills.
And offensive success starts with effective and clean passing.
“I thought our passing, once we kind of got that under control, it was definitely a lot better,” Pleasant Valley coach Amber Hall said. “That second set we had a little setback but definitely in that third set our passing was really strong, which then we were able to really run our offense.”
The match was an accurate representation of the Muskies’ entire season, full of ups and downs. But despite finishing the year 6-24, Martin and the Muskies were still able to find positives from the season.
“We had a lot of ups and downs,” Kerr said. “Overall for me being a part of varsity, this is the best season that I’ve been a part of. It was the most enjoyable, we had a great group of girls on the court. It was a good year.”
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that Catie Cole led Muscatine in kills with five. Senior Paige Miller led the Muskies with eight kills.