WEST LIBERTY, Iowa -- When the West Liberty volleyball team takes the court at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids at the Class 3A state tournament Wednesday, it will be the first time the Comets have been to state since 2015.
Compared to most other schools, that’s not that long a wait. It will be the latest such accomplishment for a school that has been riding a bit of a hot streak with its athletic programs, with several successful team and individual postseason appearances in various sports over the last calendar year.
But for the Comets (31-7), it does feel like a bit of an overextended wait. That's because since that last state appearance, only one team has eliminated West Liberty from the tournament: Davenport Assumption. For the last three seasons, seeding and geography have pitted the Comets against Assumption prior to the games in Cedar Rapids.
This year was different, though. Without the Knights in their way, West Liberty is back. However, should the Comets and Assumption both win on Wednesday, the two will square off in the Class 3A state semifinals on Thursday.
“These girls set their mind at the beginning of the season - even during the summer workouts - that they (wanted) to get to the state tournament,” West Liberty head coach Ruben Galvan said. “It’s something that, as a coach, you feel proud and excited for the team to get to that point.”
First, the Comets must contend with the Mount Vernon Mustangs (33-10).
The Mustangs head into the state tournament led by junior Lauren Schrock, Mount Vernon’s leader in kills this season with 442. Fellow juniors Camryn Ellyson and Natalie Welch balance out the Mustangs’ attack, as they both have recorded over 250 kills thus far in 2019.
At the end of the regular season, Mount Vernon ranked seventh in Class 3A, and enter the tournament seeded fifth. West Liberty was ranked fifth in the last set of rankings and are seeded fourth, making them the slight favorite heading into the state quarterfinals.
“We try and get as much information as we can on all eight teams that are (at state),” said Galvan, “but at this point, we’re comfortable with what we’re doing ourselves, and I think as long as we play to our potential, good things can happen.”
Distributing the ball between those hitters will be senior Summer Brand and her 1,085 assists on the season.
West Liberty has every reason to believe they have just as much — if not more — firepower as their opponent, regardless of who it is. Especially since the Comets have yet to drop a set in postseason play, sweeping their way past Mid-Prairie, Central Lee and Albia on their way to the U.S. Cellular Center.
West Liberty’s most prolific hitter is Macy Daufeldt, a sophomore who leads the Comets with 455 kills this season. Juniors Martha Pace (368 kills), Averi Goodale (121) and Isabel Morrison (100) also factor heavily into the West Liberty attack. That gives senior setter Morgan Peterson (who has 933 assists this season) plenty of options.
“We’re taking it just like every other game,” Galvan said. “Every time we step foot on the court, we’re playing to win. We do that by playing as a team … our preparation and dedication by the girls take care of that.”