CLINTON — One of the more brilliant River Queens plays Tuesday came while Clinton clung to its first lead of the match against No. 2 Bettendorf. It also happened not to involve Monique Harris touching the ball.
The River Queens were down two sets to none with the Bulldogs eyeing both a sweep and the outright Mississippi Athletic Conference title in Set 3. The teams played to a 5-5 tie, when Bettendorf ripped another of its many tough, line-drive float serves, the kind that plagued Clinton's passers throughout the night. This time, Jordan Nelson sent sailing a high, tight pass near the zone, and Harris leaped to place 10 fingers on the ball as it crossed the threshold between Clinton's court and its opponents. Harris then motioned as if she was pushing the ball forward, never once making contact.
Instead, the ball landed without incident on Bettendorf's side — 6-5 River Queens — a rare moment when Clinton caught one of the best teams in Iowa napping.
"I've never had the other team fall for that, I guess," Harris said.
It was a night that was as much about high-stakes MAC volleyball as it was about recapping her decorated four-year varsity career. Harris was recognized alongside teammates Nelson, Shannon Shovlain, Gabby Haan, Hannah Dehner and Erin Wenzel on Senior Night, where her accolades as an all-state player, All-American, all-conference recipient were detailed. After the match, she was officially recognized by co-coach Mark Massey as the all-time leader in assists, having passed Selena Eggers’ 21-year record with last week's win over Pleasant Valley.
That was about as good as it got for the River Queens, though. Bettendorf responded to the deficit with a 14-4 run on its way to a 25-15 third-set victory, showcasing why it remains the team to beat in the MAC. The Bulldogs (32-2, 9-0 in the MAC) stopped Clinton's best hitters (12 team blocks), aced its best passers (eight aces to two) and handled a typically sturdy River Queens defense.
Clinton settled for a three-way tie for runner-up in the MAC with Pleasant Valley and Muscatine, also 7-2. A win would have made the River Queens co-conference champions with Bettendorf. Bulldogs coach Diane Lichtenberg said her team was in no mood to share.
"Our first goal was to win the MAC," Lichtenberg said. "We didn't want to have to share that with anybody. The last two matches, Clinton was down 0-2 and came back. We wanted to make sure that didn't happen."
Bettendorf built an early 10-4 lead in the opener, as setter Anna Willey posted a five-point run from the service line with two aces. Clinton picked at the lead, turning hard Bulldogs swings into digs and long rallies. Harris found Wenzel and sophomore outside Elle Tubbs while stringing together several short Clinton runs, bringing her team as close as 21-18. The Bulldogs put down their next four points for kills and took Set 1 25-20.
Bettendorf built another strong lead — 7-2 — thanks to tough serving in Set 2. While the River Queens slowly climbed back, they struggled to create their own points, relying mostly on Bulldogs miscues to stay within striking distance. Nelson, Shovlain and Harris weathered several punishing blows from Bettendorf outside Devan Porter, helping Clinton win another long rally to make it 16-13 Bulldogs. Yet again, Bettendorf used another hefty string of points, closing out the set with a 10-5 run.
Porter finished with a match-high 11 kills.
"When you play a good team, a couple of things can happen," Clinton co-coach Aubree Tanzillo said. "You can play outstanding or you can be the team that gets out of system. I think that was us tonight."
Lichtenberg said her team "clearly needed to shut down" the River Queens' offensive cogs: Wenzel and Tubbs. Bettendorf held both players to relatively quiet nights, eight and 10 kills, respectively. Neither player had an attempt without facing two black-and-gold blockers across the net.
Conversely, Willey and her setting partner, Megan Sharkey, ran an up-tempo, multi-look offense that spread the ball to both pins. There were several times when Bettendorf's heaviest hitters had free rein on an open net. The two combined for 38 assists.
"That's probably the best block we've seen," Massey said. "We've been one of the state leaders in hitting efficiency, and I think they did to us what we've done to some other teams."
Wenzel said: "It's truly the hardest conference in the state. We knew we had to come out and play tough tonight to get the win."
The loss dropped Clinton to 20-9. The good news is the River Queens skirted MAC teams in state tournament play, and they have a week to prepare for either Cedar Rapids Kennedy or Waterloo East on Thursday, Oct. 31.
"All this loss means is we've got to have more heart at the end," Harris said.
If Bettendorf and Clinton meet again this season, it would mean a MAC showdown at the state tournament in Cedar Rapids. By then, something more than the conference trophy will be at stake.
BETTENDORF 25-25-25, CLINTON 20-18-15
Kills — Bettendorf (Devan Porter 11, Anna Willey 8), Clinton (Elle Tubbs 10, Erin Wenzel 8, Hannah Dehner 6). Assists — Bettendorf (Megan Sharkey 19, Willey 17), Clinton (Monique Harris 21). Digs — Bettendorf (Olivia Drexler 22, Porter 15), Clinton (Harris 17, Jordan Nelson 15, Raven Jones 15). Blocks — Bettendorf (Willey 4, Porter 3, Hannah Matt 3), Clinton (Dehner 2, Harris 1, Wenzel 1). Aces — Bettendorf (Willey 4), Clinton (Harris 2).
Bettendorf 25-25, Clinton 12-13
Clinton statistical leaders
Kills — Elley Housenga 2, Kassidy VanHorn 2. Assists — Abby Mulholland 6. Blocks — Housenga 2. Aces — Sam Brisch 4.