NEWTON — There was a hesitation. Everyone for Newton was sure the volleyball returned by Pella landed outside the line. They had to wait for the official’s signal.
A whistle and the official’s signal touched off a roar and celebration Tuesday night by Newton’s Cardinals and their fans. The Cardinals are the 2013 Little Hawkeye Conference volleyball champions.
They needed to knockoff Pella’s Little Dutch, who came into the match undefeated in conference play. Check. The Cardinals did it in three straight sets, 25-20, 26-24, 26-24.
On Senior Night, the senior-laden Cardinals celebrated Newton’s first-ever LHC volleyball championship. Newton has been a member of the Little Hawkeye for eight years.
“There aren’t words enough to describe what this means to our team,” said Holly Vander Pol, one of seven seniors on the squad. “We just went out there tonight and gave it all we had. This is huge for us.”
Three team goals were set by the Cardinals going into 2013, which would be the final season for head coach Kim Florke. Set a new team record in season match-wins. Check. Win Little Hawkeye Conference championship. Check.
Secure a Class 4A state tournament berth. Working on it.
Newton, which is 13th ranked in 4A, still has to play at Southeast Polk Thursday to finish out the regular season. The Cardinals are 26-11.
“Wow, this is great for our kids. They are a determined and focused group. They come ready to practice hard and it shows in matches,” said Florke, who was presented a plaque before the match in recognition of her 15 years as head coach of the Cardinals. “This was the best home crowd we’ve had since I’ve been here. The students were great for our team.”
“We have Southeast Polk on Thursday, which gives us a great quality match before regional play,” Florke said.
The Cardinals earned a first-round bye in next week’s Class 4A, Region 4 tournament. Newton hosts the winner of next Monday’s Grinnell-ADM match on Halloween, Oct. 31. The match is set for 7 p.m. at NHS.
Tuesday night was a sweep for Newton volleyball. The junior varsity earned a 25-21, 14-25, 15-13 win. The freshmen finished up an undefeated conference run with a 25-16, 26-10 win.
Newton’s varsity knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Pella came in at 20-14 and had beaten Newton on the NHS court during the Cardinal Invitational.
The first set was back-and-forth early. A three-point serving run by senior Jennifer Ventling put the Cardinals up 10-7 and they never trailed again. Freshman setter Megan Pressgrove had a three-point run — two were aces — to bump the lead to 22-13. Newton won 25-20.
Newton started the second set strong. Vander Pol served four straight points, two came on senior Michaela Bleeker kills. The Little Dutch answered with a four-point run. Pella moved to a 13-11 lead.
Down 16-13, Pressgrove came up with a kill at the net to put the volleyball back in the Cardinals’ hands. Senior Bailey Beaderstadt rang up three points, one on a Ventling block.
The Cardinals tied the set up at 19-19 and took the lead again with Pressgrove serving. Then it was back-and-forth. Senior Amber Karsten served up the winning point, 26-24.
Beaderstadt, who sent 19-of-19 at the service line for the math, served up three straight points to push the Cardinals to a 7-2 lead in the third set. Newton maintained its lead, fending off several challenges by the Little Dutch.
Beaderstadt had another three-point run, two points came on kills by Pressgrove and Bleeker, to make it 19-15. Realty was starting to sink in for the Cardinals.
“The seven seniors have played together for a long time. This was our last chance, and coach’s (Florke) last chance, at a conference championship,” Beaderstadt said.
Pressgrove’s third ace serve of the match had the Cardinals one point away from the championship, 24-17.
“The seniors have been really good to work with me. They adjust so well to how I set, which sometimes isn’t as good as I would like,” Pressgrove said.
But the Little Dutch weren’t going away quietly. They made a defensive play to get the serve back. With senior Regan Nelson serving, Pella scored six straight points to tie the set at 24-all.
“We needed just one point. We talked about calming down and doing what we do,” said senior libero Kacy Cazett.
Senior Sydney Bergman and Beaderstadt were on the bench during the Pella run.
“It was tough just sitting there but unbelievable — we were one point away from conference championship,” Bergman said. “This is awesome. We grew a lot as a team this year. We just click well.”
“This team just finds a way to get it done at the end. That’s what I like about this group,” Florke said.
Newton stopped the Pella run, leading 25-24, and Ventling, a senior who had been sidelined early in the season with an ankle injury, serving for set, match and championship point. The teams rallied a little with the volleyball then Pella hit it back over — and out.
“This is what we’ve been working toward all season. Through all the off-season, we worked and all of it paid off for us tonight,” said Bleeker, who leads the conference in kills and racked up 13 more against Pella. “We’re a very superstitious team. Even though we didn’t have a full day of school, nothing changed in our routine.”
Bleeker was 36-of-45 in net attacks on the night. She came up with 10 digs, plus served for four points. Pressgrove put up 24 set assists but also worked the net, 20-of-22 attacks for eight kills. Pressgrove went 13-of-13 serving with seven points, plus had eight digs.
“My heart was racing, We all were confident but nervous about tonight,” Ventling said. “The key tonight against Pella was we picked up their tips at the net well. We played our game. This is awesome.”
Vander Pol (18-of-20) and Karsten (15-of-20) each had four kills, while Ventling and Beaderstadt each put down two kills. Beaderstadt served for 12 points to lead the team. Vander Pol served for five points. Ventling and Karsten each had four points serving.
Cazett picked up nine digs and went 14-of-19 in serve receive. Karsten came up with 13 digs and Vander Pol had nine digs.
“I’ve never been a conference champion before. We stayed composed. We played through the pressure of being at home on Senior Night and conference championship on the line,” Karsten said. “We’ve achieved the second of our goals tonight.”