SAYLOR — A week ago, when Prairie City-Monroe’s volleyball team fell in straight sets to North Polk at home, the team’s coach Mollie Keitges said she thought they came out a little bit too timid. That was not the case on Tuesday against Saydel, when the Mustangs got their most decisive win of the season, taking down the Eagles in straight sets (25-15, 25-15, 25-23).
“They were much more aggressive,” Keitges said. “I loved our defense tonight. They weren’t letting balls drop. The girls were flying on the floor to pick balls up. So, the defense started it, and our hitters were very smart, knowing when to swing and play small ball.”
Saydel jumped out to an early lead in the first set, going up 7-4, but that faded quickly. A side out gave the ball to PCM, and the Mustangs wouldn’t give it back until they had the lead. Senior Abbi Gilson served up an ace to pull within one at 7-6. The next point was a kill by Cassidy Van Veen. Lexi Kain spiked one to the floor to give PCM its first lead.
Katie Vande Wall blocked one at the net to take an 11-8 advantage. PCM and Saydel would trade points until a serve went into the net for the Eagles. A spike by Gilson made it 16-12, and another kill by Kain made it 18-14. Gilson served up three straight aces, allowing the Mustangs to pull away. Kain spiked another one to make it set point, and the freshman Kayla Jennings ended the set at 25-15.
Both teams traded points to begin the second set, but the Mustangs pulled ahead after an ace by Megan Winegar. Emma Williams landed a kill to give PCM a two-point lead. Later on, Gilson would hammer one home to make it 5-3. She went to the service line. Six points and two aces later, the Mustangs were up 11-3 with the Eagles taking a timeout.
PCM increased the lead to 17-7, and with Williams serving, Saydel lost a point on a mishit. Courtney Van Houweling landed a kill, and a shot that landed long gave PCM a 22-8 lead. The Eagles surged late in the set enough to make it close, especially after aces by Kaley Kuehl made it 22-14. PCM got the ball back into Gilson’s hands at the service line, ending the set with an ace.
Kenzie Clarke started the third set with a phenomenal dig that led to a kill by Kain. The following serve was long, tying it up at one. Saydel took a 3-1 lead, but a tip by Van Houweling made it 3-2. Williams landed an ace to tie things up. They traded points until the Eagles pulled ahead with some strong serves, and an ace by Kuhl made it 12-6.
Saydel looked to be in control until momentum switched.
With the score 19-13, Gilson got a kill to give the ball back to PCM. Winegar served up some strong hits, and the Mustangs pulled within three at 20-17. Van Houweling’s kill kept them in it at 21-18. She then scored an ace for the Mustangs, and Gilson followed with a kill to pull within one.
Saydel hit one into the net, tying the set at 21. Gilson hit another kill, making it match point at 24-21. Despite getting two more points, a Saydel kill attempt landed long, giving the win to PCM.
“That was such a great effort,” Keitges said. “The communication was much better. They talked so well on the floor, and I was very happy to see that. At the end, they didn’t give up. They talked themselves through it. I loved their focus.”
Gilson put together an effort unequaled by nearly any other high school volleyball player in the state, according to the IGHSAU’s website, serving up nine aces in the Mustang victory. PCM barely lost a point with her serving in the first two sets.
Van Houweling led the team with eight kills, followed by Gilson’s seven. Williams’ nine assists led the Mustangs. Van Veen had four assists, and Jayci Vos picked up four set assists. Van Houweling also had the team lead in digs with 10. Clarke’s nine digs were second for the Mustangs.
PCM will try to keep the momentum going, but with a match coming up on Thursday against Nevada, things will not be getting any easier for the Mustangs.
“Positivity builds positivity,” Keitges said. “We have a big game coming up Thursday against Nevada. It’s going to be tough. I think we just build on this. The more confidence they get and the more they play hard and play like that, will help them get better. We play 13 games in these last two weeks, so they’re excited and focused.”