TIPTON, Iowa − Courage is acquired.
That has been the motto Wilton volleyball coach Brenda Grunder has preached to her team all season. Even though Wilton fell just a few points short of capturing a River Valley Conference Tournament title Thursday night, Grunder saw her team take a leap in the right direction.
"We just grew a lot," Grunder said. "I couldn't ask for better momentum heading into the postseason."
After beating both Monticello and Durant in straight sets, Wilton had opportunities in the finals against host Tipton, but ultimately fell 27-25, 19-25, 17-15 to take second place.
Although the Beavers hung their heads on their way to the locker room amidst the Tigers' celebration, Grunder couldn't have been more proud of her team's performance.
"I am so proud, I'm just so proud right now," Grunder said with a smile. "We spent a lot of time on our block, I haven't had a team block this well and it was a great effort on a big swinging team. We did a great job on serve receive, too."
Wilton (33-4) had 19 blocks against Tipton, one of the best hitting teams in the state, after working tirelessly on its block the previous day in practice.
Wilton had chances in the first set, and even set up a set point after one of its 19 blocks, but Tipton rattled off the next three points to escape. The second set was a different story, however, as Wilton jumped out to a 17-10 lead and never trailed on its way to winning the set.
The Beavers continued that momentum into the third while taking a 7-3 lead, but a few mental mistakes allowed the Tigers to climb back in the set and tie the score, 9-9.
Senior Aubrey Putman, who finished the championship match with 21 kills, recorded a block and a kill to save match point and tie the score at 14. The Beavers earned a match point at 15-14, but the Tigers stormed back to win the following three points and the match.
Even so, Grunder was thrilled with her team's play, and agreed that it was the Beavers' best all-around defensive performance of the season.
"I was proud of how we battled," Grunder said. "Our blocks was absolutely huge. We made some mistakes but delivered on a lot of big plays."
Grunder lauded the play of Kortney Drake, who finished the championship match with eight kills and five blocks as well as Ella Caffery, who had 31 assists.
However, Wilton did pick up two quality wins, one against Monticello, and a 25-21, 25-18 sweep of Durant to avenge a five-set loss from earlier in the season.
For Durant, coach Mark Lau felt his team was never able to find a rhythm against Wilton after dispatching Anamosa in the quarterfinals.
"We played about as poopy as we possibly could and still hung in there on the scoreboard with a really, really good team," Lau said of the Wilton match. "When we do our jobs a little better I think the outcome is different."
For West Liberty, the Comets lost a three-set match to Tipton, the eventual RVC champions.