The Newton volleyball team has accumulated 19 wins this season. And, at last, one of those wins came in Little Hawkeye Conference play.
Trailing 1-2 in the set score, the Cardinals (19-10, 1-4) pulled off a narrow fourth-set victory before closing out conference-leading Oskaloosa in the fifth to earn a marathon 3-2 (25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-13) victory for their first conference win Tuesday night.
"When we pass the ball well and we're aggressive, we're very good. When we tip it back and give it to them, we're awful," Newton coach Kim Florke said. "Our kids finally decided that's what they need to do to win. We lost focus a few times like we do, but I'm really proud of how they stuck with it and got it done."
The first set wasn't much of an indicator for the rest of the night as Newton came out strong with an 8-0 run to take an early 13-5 lead. Getting contributions from juniors Bailey Beaderstadt, Michaela Bleeker and Amber Karsten, the Cards built that lead further before Osky began to get it together. By then, however, it was too late and Newton took the first set 25-18.
"We came out very focused and aggressive," Florke said. "We blocked well, hit well and our short serving bothered them a lot. We had them out of system so that really helped."
Osky picked up where it left off in the second set, taking an early lead and slowly stretching it out as the set progressed. The Cards trailed 24-17 at one point, but a tough rally led by the serving of junior Holly Vander Pol brought the score to 24-21 before the Indians closed it out.
It was Newton's turn to steal some momentum back in the third as the Cards built up a decent lead after the teams traded points early on. Three consectuve blocks by Beaderstadt and senior Katelyn Camp put the lead at 15-11 before Osky strung a few points together of its own to get back in the set.
A series of Newton attack errors allowed the Indians to tie the game 18-18 and give Osky a spark. Despite two late kills from Vander Pol and one from Bleeker, the Indians were able to close the set on a block and a Cardinal attack error to take a deflating 2-1 lead.
"I just kept telling everyone to keep their composure," said Bleeker, who finished with a 31-kill, 24-dig double-double.
"And keep up the energy and don't get down on yourself," Camp added.
Although seemingly all of the momentum was on Osky's side going into the fourth set, the Cards played some of their best ball of the night at the beginning. Using two separate runs, Newton blew the score up to as high as 20-10 before Osky found its legs again.
The Indians then mounted a furious rally, coming all the way back to 24-23 thanks to multiple Cardinal errors on free balls and blocks. Bleeker managed three more kills in crunch time, but it was junior Jennifer Ventling that had the decisive kill to send the match to its fifth set.
"I think we lost some confidence because they were blocking us, and that's when I said they just have to go for it," Florke said. "If we're going to lose, we're going down swinging."
The fifth set played out much like the fourth, as Newton built an early lead and had Osky on the brink of defeat before the Indians began to claw their way back. Vander Pol contributed an ace and kill to put the score at 13-9, but Osky closed the gap to 14-13 before an attack error closed the match out in favor of the Cards.
"We had a lot of confidence going in, so we just knew we were going to get it," Camp said of the fifth set.
The win is a good one for the Cards, not only as their first conference win, but also considering the competition they'll face in Johnston this weekend. On the slate is Dowling Catholic, Marshalltown and Ankeny Centennial, which should give Newton one final push into the last two weeks of the season.
"This is going to make us work harder for sure," Bleeker said. "Coach isn't going to want us to take a step down, especially this weekend with the bigger schools."
Newton 3, Oskaloosa 2
Set scores: 25-18, 21-15, 23-25, 25-23, 15-13
Kills: Bleeker 31; Vander Pol 8; Camp 7. Digs: Karsten 30; Bleeker 24; Cazett 10. Serving: Beaderstadt 26-27, 1 ace; Camp 11-12, 1 ace, Vander Pol 5 aces, Karsten 2 aces; Ventling 9-10. Assists: Camp 32; Vander Pol 2.