SOLON– Solon head coach Peter Gustin knows better than to look ahead on the schedule.
“When teams look ahead, they falter,” Gustin said. “The little things and discipline start to go out the window and there isn’t a team that can just flip a switch and play its “A” game. We focus on certain areas of improvement in every match, regardless of our opponent.”
But Gustin admitted with looming conference showdowns on the road at Mount Vernon and West Delaware, he may be looking at a little more film than usual, and the regular goofiness at practice will be tapered off.
“As seen in our match with Linn-Mar, the girls know that every team is beatable, including ours,” Gustin said. “If we are going to win a state championship this year, we’re going to have to make a nearly perfect run the rest of the way out, including beating the next best three teams to close it out.”
The Lady Spartans, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Association, were scheduled to play their last home game of the season against Anamosa Tuesday night, Oct. 1.
After that, Solon travels to Mount Vernon Tuesday, Oct. 8, to face the Class 3A No. 7 Mustangs, and turn around Thursday, Oct. 10, for a clash with West Delaware, ranked No. 5 in Class 4A.
Both are WaMaC East division foes.
“Our girls remember what it felt like last year to come so close, and we constantly remind them of that match,” Gustin said. “We have got to keep working harder and harder every minute of every practice to eliminate the amount of points we have given to each team thus far. Our girls understand this, and they will take it upon themselves to propel each other to the next level.”
The Lady Spartans took the steps they needed last week, defeating Western Dubuque at home Sept. 24 (25-17, 25-18, 25-13), and Central Clinton of DeWitt on the road (25-8, 25-16, 25-15).
“Thursday night’s match in DeWitt was certainly our best all-around performance to date,” Gustin said. “Our net play was explosive and a rock on defense. It was also a great week in the sense that we got every one of our girls out on the court.”
Offensively, Jordan Smith and Jordan Runge led the team with 10 kills each; Kendra Cave added six and Vik Meade four.
Jordan Smith also had three aces and was 15-17 from the service line. Taylor Nearad (20-21) and Natalie Kosek (14-14) were both near-perfect with their serves.
Nearad had 30 assists as setter, while Rylee Smith had 16 digs to pace the team.
Defensively, the Lady Spartans blocked 15 shots for the match, with five different players getting at least an assist. Meade and Runge were credited with four total blocks each, while Maegan Bruene added three and Kendra Cave and Jordan Smith each had two.
“When blocking, it really takes a lot to establish a rhythm,” Gustin said. “We’ve been working on our blocking technique in practice, especially with our middles, and that certainly came through on Thursday. A little bit of rest over the past week and a half has also rejuvenated the girls’ legs a bit, I’m sure.”
Against Western Dubuque, the Lady Spartans fell behind in the second and third games before taking command.
Solon broke open a 2-2 tie in the first and surged ahead on kills by Cave and Bruene. Western Dubuque was able to climb back to within three points late in the game, but Nearad and Jordan Smith put it away from the service line.
The second game mirrored the first, but in the third, the Lady Spartans had established their game and ran away with the win behind Kosek’s serve.
Runge led the offense with 14 kills, and Cave followed with 11. Jordan Smith (nine), Meade (eight) and Bruene (six) all contributed as well.
Nearad had 42 assists and was 11-11 from the service line. Kosek was 23-23 with an ace, while Jordan Smith went 13-15 with four aces.
“Jordan Runge had her best performances this week, and we’ll look to that trend to continue,” Gustin said. “Taylor (Nearad) is working as hard as anyone to make sure she’s adjusting individually to each of our hitters’ strengths.”