PELLA — Just when the Newton volleyball team was picking up some steam in Little Hawkeye Conference play, the conference season came to an end Tuesday night.
With a 3-2 (23-25, 25-22, 26-28, 25-23, 15-12) thriller victory over Pella, the Class 4A No. 14 Cardinals wrapped up conference play on a two-game win streak before earning their 22nd win of the season over Centerville during a triangular.
Newton didn’t make things easy on itself against the Dutch, but was able to make the big plays when it mattered.
“We weren’t mentally ready to go, but thankfully pulled it together when we needed to,” Newton coach Kim Florke said. “I thought we lost their composure in the third, but got it done in the fourth and fifth.”
The Cards went down early in the first set against Pella, but recovered to tie things up midway through. A second rally brought them back from 21-18 to tie the score, but the Dutch capitalized on Newton block and attack errors to claim the first set.
“We’re not getting home and setting our defense correctly. We worked on that (Monday night), so I don’t understand why we’re not,” Florke said. “That’s something we have to go back and get figured out before Thursday or we’ll be in trouble there.”
The Cards flipped the script in set 2, jumping out to a big lead that was as high as 16-8. However, Pella mounted a furious comeback and eventually tied things back up at 20-20. The two teams then traded points before back-to-back aces by junior Michaela Bleeker and a kill from senior Katelyn Camp allowed the Cards to tie the set score back up.
Set 3 was easily the most frustrating for Newton all night, as it trailed late, made a comeback and then couldn’t close out that comeback before dropping the set. The Cards’ held a 24-21 lead before two block errors and a lift tied things back up. Junior Holly Vander Pol regained some momentum with a late kill, but the Dutch defense held strong to take the set and get a 2-1 lead.
“In our five-set matches, there have been times where we’ll surge to that lead and then not look back, and then there’s games like the third where we give it up at the end,” Florke said. “So to get the fourth and fifth was good to see.”
Although Newton won the next two sets, the fourth was no cakewalk. Newton again held a slim lead late before allowing Pella to tie things up. This time, however, the Cards were able to put it away with kills from Bleeker and Vander Pol.
The decisive fifth set was probably the Cards’ most focused of the night as the two teams traded points early on. With the score at 12-12, Newton capitalized on three Pella errors to earn the victory and peg its conference record at 2-4.
After all of that, the Cards’ match with Centerville directly after hardly seemed like a challenge. Newton swept the Redettes 2-0 (25-12, 25-10) in a best-of-three match, which featured Florke trying to get the middle blockers more involved. That strategy worked as juniors Amber Karsten and Jennifer Ventling combined for 10 kills in the match, while the team also went 48-for-48 serving.
“If we’re going to meet our goals, we have to get our middles and our right side more involved,” Florke said. “I thought Amber Karsten played two very good matches tonight. She was aggressive and just came ready to play.”
Sitting at 22-13 overall, the Cardinals are just two wins away from the school record with two matches remaining. They will host Southeast Polk on Thursday in the regular-season finale before returning to Pella on Monday to take on the Dutch in the first round of the Class 4A regional play.
Although Newton has defeated Pella in both of the schools’ meetings this year, Florke and the team know they’ll need a more solid effort than Tuesday when regionals roll around.
“We probably beat two of the better teams at the end, which kind of makes it more frustrating that we didn’t take care of business at the beginning,” Florke said. “I think it’s going to be another battle, and we’ll have to play a lot better to beat them on Monday night. They’ll need to be more mentally ready to go if we’re going to get that W.”