GRINNELL — Newton and Grinnell met as two very evenly matched volleyball teams Tuesday night, and the scores reflected it.
But it was the host Tigers that were just a little better, topping the Cardinals in a tightly-contested four-game match to win by scores of 29-27, 25-18, 19-25 and 25-21.
It improved Grinnell to 15-6 overall and 4-1 in the Little Hawkeye Conference, while Newton is now 18-10 and still searching for its first LHC win at 0-4 in league play.
After dropping a thrilling, marathon first game, the Tigers controlled the second half of the second game to take a comfortable 2-0 lead. Up 11-6 in the third, they appeared to be on their way to a sweep before Newton rallied to win and force a fourth. There, the Cards were up 16-13 before the Tigers scored 12 of the last 17 points to end Newton's hopes of a comeback.
"We gave them too many balls back too easy," Cardinals coach Kim Florke said. "We can't just turn and give the ball back to a team like that that keeps the ball in play. We didn't make some good decisions at times and missed some serves we usually don't miss."
The first game was as good as any volleyball fan could have asked for, featuring nine ties and three lead-changes down the stretch. Newton used an early 7-0 run to go ahead 8-3 before Grinnell had a 5-0 run of its own to get within 12-11, at which the teams started trading points. They traded the next 12 points and the Cards led 19-17 before the Tigers used a 4-0 run to take a 21-19 lead. After swapping the next few scores, Grinnell had game point at 24-22. But two Bleeker kills and a push from senior Katelyn Camp gave Newton its own game point at 25-24. The Tigers didn't flinch, tying the game three more times before going ahead 28-27 with a push, and they won it as a Bleeker push landed just long.
Game two was close throughout until Grinnell pulled away right at the end. Newton led 8-7 before the Tigers used a 7-2 run to take control at 13-9. That lead eventually became 18-13 before the Cardinals had a quick 3-0 run with a kill from junior Ventling and an ace from Bleeker to pull within 18-16. But Newton would get no closer. Grinnell led 21-18 before ending the game on a 4-0 run to take a 2-0 overall lead.
Momentum swung back-and-forth in the first half of game three. Grinnell got out to a 5-0 lead, and then Newton tied it at 5. The Tigers used another 5-0 run to go up 11-6, at which point it seemed the Cardinals lost their fire. But Florke called a timeout to regroup, and it worked. Newton responded with a 7-0 run that included three kills from Bleeker and two from Ventling to take a 13-11 lead. Newton was still in good shape up 16-13 before Grinnell went on a 5-1 run to go ahead 18-17. But the Cardinals weren't ready to go home yet and closed strong. They went up 19-18 and then ended game three on a 6-0 run that included two-straight Bleeker kills.
"We just regained our composure in the third game and started playing our volleyball instead of worrying about things we couldn't control," Florke said. "We did a little better job of passing there."
Game four was as close as expected. Newton was down 6-3 early before using a 7-2 run to go up 10-8. After a 4-0 run put the Cards ahead 16-13 a little later, they seemed poised to force a winner-take-all fifth game. But it wasn't to be. Grinnell went on a 7-1 run to go up 20-17, traded the next few points with Newton and then scored the game's last three to win 25-21.
"They keep the ball in play and make it frustrating for you," Florke said about the Tigers. "We lost our composure when we shouldn't have."
Bleeker finished with a team-high 15 kills and 23 digs for Newton, while junior Amber Karsten added 21 digs and went a perfect 18-for-18 serving with five aces. Junior Holly Vander Pol went 17-for-18 serving, had seven kills and 18 digs, Venting had 10 kills and senior Katelyn Camp totaled 31 assists.
Next up for the Cardinals is a home match against LHC-leader and 13th-ranked Oskaloosa (13-10, 4-0) next Tuesday. Newton already knows its first postseason opponent, as the regional volleyball pairings were released earlier this week. The Cardinals will host rival Pella on Oct. 22.
GRINNELL 3, NEWTON 1
Game scores: G 29-27, G 25-28, N 25-19, G 25-21
Newton stats — Serving: Amber Karsten 18-18, Holly Vander Pol 17-18, Katelyn Camp 8-8, Jennifer Ventling 6-6, Bailey Beaderstadt 16-18, Michaela Bleeker 13-15. Aces: Beaderstadt 5, three with 1. Kills: Bleeker 15, Ventling 10, Vander Pol 7, Camp 4, Beaderstadt 3, Karsten 2. Digs: Bleeker 23, Karsten 21, Vander Pol 18, Kacy Cazett 8, Camp 7, Beaderstadt 3. Assists: Camp 31.