BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CEDAR RAPIDS – For the second year in a row the Bloodhound volleyball season ended at substate at the hands Cedar Rapids Xavier Monday night.
Fort Madison High School faced the Saints again on their home court for a shot to get to the state volleyball tournament, but FMHS couldn’t hang with the No. 1 team in the state and were sent home 18-25, 18-25, 16-25.
Fort Madison Head Coach Kent Bailey said the Bloodhounds dug a couple holes in each game that they couldn’t recover from. However, he gave credit to the Saints and the level of volleyball they’ve played at all year.
“We dug ourselves out a couple times,” he said. ‘You’ve got to give them credit, there’s a reason they are the No. 1 ranked team in 4A. The difference was that their hitters were willing to swing every time and ours were a little timid.”
The Hounds started aggressively and held a slim 5-4 advantage in the first game when Kaeli Huston ended a point with a kill to give the Hounds an advantage, but the Saints put together one of their trademark runs on the evening with a 7-2 stretch capped by a kill from Xavier senior Ellie McDermott that made it 11-7. Hounds sophomore Jillian Wiseman ended the run with a kill, but the Hounds couldn’t get closer than 4 with the Saints pushing the lead to as much as 7 at 24-17.
The second game saw the Hounds with a 4-2 lead to open the contest, but the Saints slapped another run, this time 8-0, on the Hounds. The two were tied at 5s and the Saints’ Jaz Yamilkoski served eight straight points in the run that gave Xavier a 13-5 lead. But the Saints only converted one point during the run on a kill by junior Emily Jasper. All seven of the other points were on miscues by the Hounds, including one set that fell to the floor between three players.
Bailey said the Hounds weren’t able to play their game with the heavy hitting of Xavier.
“Our game plan was to come in heavy with our middle hitters swinging and then include our outside hitters when we suck those big blockers into the middle,” he said. “When we were able to pass well and get the sets we were able to do that, but we didn’t get that done very often.”
The Hounds got a point at 13-6 on a Saints attack error, but then the home squad put up another 4-1 run with the Hounds’ point coming on a Wiseman kill to make it 17-7 and the match seemingly out of control.
But a kill by senior Amber Dilsaver sparked a 9-2 run by the Hounds, including two kills and a block by Dilsaver, to close the gap to 19-15, but the Saints took back the momentum after an illegal rotation penalty and got two consecutive kills and put up four straight points for a 23-15 lead. Two FMHS errors gave the Saints a 2-0 advantage.
The Hounds spotted Xavier a 6-0 lead in the third game that quickly got out of control and the Hounds never got within six points again, trailing by as many as 11. The Bloodhounds had a 6-1 run to bring the score to 13-21 but wouldn’t get any closer, ending their season.
“We don’t get to play the same level of competition. If you look across the banners in this gym, six of those teams in this conference will be playing at state next week,” Bailey said after the game.
He said the six seniors Kamryn Bailey, Shyla Farmer, Courtney Woodley, Dilsaver, Leigh Johnson, and McKenna Fehseke have played a lot of ball together.
“These six seniors played a lot of volleyball… playing clubs since 5th grade and they’ve been a great group to work with this year,” he said.
“We let our kids know that these six seniors stuck it out and now the younger kids can learn from this. They gotcha here, now what do you want to do with that.”
Kaeli Hutson was 12 of 16 hitting with a kill. Dilsaver was 23 of 25 with 13 kills and was 7 of 9 serving. Wiseman was 16 of 21 hitting with seven kills and 3 blocks. Josie Pumphrey was 14 of 14 serving with two aces and 17 digs, Bailey went 11 of 11 serving with an ace and six digs. Olivia Williams was 9 of 9 serving with one ace and five digs.
Wiseman said the level of competition at this game was different than what she’s seen this year.
“It’s hard because of where we’re from. We don’t get this level of competition during the season, but it helps a lot when we come up and play this level,” she said.
“We don’t have a lot of people left, but we’re going to be pretty strong next year. We’re going to push harder next year and try to make it back here again.”
Kamryn Bailey said the Fort Madison runs just weren’t enough to get past the top ranked Saints.
“I felt like we went out and fought and at times we fell short. We did what we could, but it just wasn’t enough. We went out fighting and that’s the best way to go out,” the senior added.
Johnson said the Bloodhounds improved all year, but fell flat in the final game.
“We improved every game we played all year until tonight. I don’t know what happened, I guess it was just nerves but we got in our own heads,” she said.
McKenna Fehseke was 7 of 10 hitting with two kills said she was proud of the way the team played all season, but was disappointed with the outcome.
“I was proud of my team this season,” she said. “Ever since we started playing together, I think us six (seniors) have had a really tight connection. I would have loved to go to state and that was our goal, but I’m so happy to be here with them. I really don’t know what happened, it seems like we get here and we just can’t finish it. We play so much better than we did tonight it’s just disappointing.”
Dilsaver said the Hounds have trailed before in the season and found a way back but against some lesser competition.
“I feel like they got on top of us early in the games, but we’re a good comeback team. All year we’ve been able to do that and we did that tonight, but they came on stronger than we could,” she said.
Johnson said the relationships were important to her, as well.
“These are definitely relationships that will last forever. Our senior class is close, but our volleyball girls are really, really close.” Johnson said.