DURANT — With the start of postseason play, its final home match and a “Dig Pink” theme, each member of Durant’s volleyball team had a shade of pink painted in its hair.
Head coach Mark Lau went for something a little more extreme.
“If me wearing a pink beard can make my girls smile or chuckle and help us get through some early moments of adrenaline, great,” Lau said.
Class 2A 12th-ranked Durant had no trouble passing its regional quarterfinal test Monday night. The Wildcats needed less than an hour to defeat Wapello 25-12, 25-12, 25-16 at Durant High School.
Durant (25-8) advances to play 10th-ranked Van Buren, a five-set winner over Mediapolis, in a regional semifinal Thursday at Mediapolis.
“I thought we could have played much better,” senior Kamryn Meyer said. “We kind of played down to a lower level than we usually do. I think some of it was nerves, the first regional match, and you always want to come out with a win.
“We didn’t play to our capabilities.”
Still, it was enough to overwhelm Wapello (12-17).
Durant had 16 service aces, eight from setter Ruby Kappeler.
After breezing through the first set, the Wildcats trailed 10-9 in the second. Kappeler stepped into serve and reeled off 11 straight points. She used a combination of power and soft serves to keep Wapello’s defense guessing.
“I was really struggling with my serve in practice this last week,” Kappeler said. “Coming out, I was just thinking get the ball in the court. But serving hard and aggressive is our goal as a team.”
That aggressive mentality comes with some mistakes. Durant had 15 service errors in the match compared to just eight Wapello kills.
Lau has no trouble with the errors if the mistakes are aggressive.
“With an aggressive serving team, there has to be misses that have to be acceptable,” Lau said. “We would miss three in a row, and then score five or six points. I like the ratio of makes to misses overall, but we bunched too many together.”
Kappeler facilitated Durant’s offense with 28 assists. Meyer had 13 kills and fellow senior Aubrin Dittmer chipped in 11.
Wapello led 11-10 in the third set, but Durant answered with a 7-0 surge and cruised to the finish line. It was the Wildcats’ first match in 11 days.
“I’m not angered in any way, but our goal was to practice being crisper in our play,” Lau said. “It was evident we weren’t crisp from start to finish. We were crisp enough to win, but the layoff is always a challenge.
“Wapello played us tough for half a game, but I was pleased with how we finished each game.”
Durant starts all seniors and this was its final home match. For some, they’ve been playing volleyball together for more than 10 years.
“Knowing now I’ll never step foot on this court as a volleyball player is a little emotional,” Kappeler said.
The majority of the seniors have been starters for multiple years and left a major imprint on Durant athletics.
“It was really surreal knowing I’ll never play volleyball in this gym again,” Meyer said. “There are a lot of good memories in here.”
As for the coach's pink beard?
“It didn’t look very good on him,” Meyer said, “but he’s all for trying that stuff out.”
Besides loosening his team up, Lau and Durant were promoting breast cancer awareness.
“I don’t take myself too seriously,” he said. “I’m 6-foot-8 and goofy. If I can make the girls smile and support a great cause, goodness gracious, let’s do it.”