DEWITT — As her team hit the midway point of Central DeWitt’s three-game sweep of Maquoketa, Sabers senior Becca Grell knew that the match was right where the Sabers wanted it.
The teams had played to a 16-all tie in the first set, but Grell could feel the Sabers’ confidence growing with every point. With Central DeWitt’s large student section firmly behind its squad, Grell and the rest of the Sabers knew that Thursday was their night to end two years of frustration against their arch-rivals.
They did so in an emphatic way.
Central DeWitt junior Mackenzie Kuehn’s run of seven straight points on her serve gave the Sabers a 22-17 lead in the opening set, and they never trailed again. Central DeWitt won 60 of the match’s final 90 points to notch its first win over the Cardinals since 2010, a 25-21, 25-12, 25-13 romp that thrilled the large crowd at Central High School.
“We’ve lost to Maquoketa two years in a row now, and it was nice to come out and get the win,” Grell said. “We thought it would be a close game, but once we got those few key plays out of the way, we went from there and it was a pretty easily played game.”
Once the first set was behind them, the Sabers (3-3, 1-0 WaMaC) appeared much more relaxed and quickly put a stranglehold on the match. In each of the final two sets, Central DeWitt established a commanding early lead, going ahead 20-5 in the second set and winning the first eight points of the final frame.
“It was great to see that the girls kept their heads focused and did a great job,” Central DeWitt coach Peggy Kuehn said. “I think it was just believing in themselves. Having the crowd behind them, they knew they could do it. Our aggressive serving from Mackenzie and the spot serving from Olivia (Haack, six aces) really helped us out throughout the night.”
By contrast, the Cardinals (1-5, 0-2) appeared to lose their confidence as the match continued. Maquoketa actually played fairly well in the opening frame, but as Central DeWitt answered the Cardinals’ attacks, their youth caught up with them, leading to a multitude of mistakes.
“I definitely think that’s a lack of experience and a lack of confidence,” Maquoketa coach Jill Schawl said. “We graduated nine kids last year from a heck of a team, so I didn’t really anticipate us to hit our stride until later in the season. It’s definitely a bummer to see them dissipate that badly in sets two and three, but it’s a learning experience.
“I think these kids are talented, but they don’t have that experience yet.”
The lack of experience was never more apparent than when the Sabers built their big leads. Other than senior Aubree Taylor, none of the Cardinals had been in that situation in a varsity match before, which allowed Central DeWitt to play as aggressive as it wanted because of the cushion it had behind it.
“When a team gets out on you by that much, you’re rattled,” Schawl said. “I give DeWitt a lot of credit. They served really aggressively because they could. When you’re up by 10 points, if you whale a ball way out of bounds, oh well. They were in the driver’s seat the whole time, and they definitely took advantage.”
The Sabers’ other strength was their back line, which came up with several crucial digs to extend points long enough for Central DeWitt to force Maquoketa into a mistake, keeping the Sabers’ scoring runs going and increasing the pressure on the Cardinals.
“My senior leadership of Becca Grell and Steph Schrader in the back row (stepped up),” Kuehn said. “They guarded that back line and kept the girls up and focused.”
It added up to the Sabers’ best performance of the season. When Kalyn Bowen’s final serve landed for an ace, the Sabers had a well-earned triumph over their rivals from Jackson County, a result that had been a long time coming.
“We wanted to win this one,” Grell said. “We’d been preparing for this game for a while, and to win it feels awesome.”
CENTRAL DEWITT 25-25-25, MAQUOKETA 21-12-13
Central DeWitt statistical leaders
Kills (24) — Katie Irwin 9, Amanda Brainerd 6, Abby Grau 5. Assists (22) — Mackenzie Kuehn 19. Digs (29) — Steph Schrader 10, Olivia Haack 9, Becca Grell 5. Blocks (6) — Brainerd 2. Ace serves (11) — Haack 6, Kuehn 4.