By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
Bumps in the road can be beneficial in sports. They can serve as an alert to oncoming danger.
Clinton’s volleyball team certainly is hoping to use its experience Saturday at the Bettendorf Invitational that way with a Mississippi Athletic Conference showdown awaiting it.
The River Queens, ranked sixth in the Iowa Class 5A state ratings, dropped a pair of three-set matches to teams ranked in the top five in their respective classes. Clinton also won a three-set match against Moline as it took third place in Pool B.
“I don’t know if we needed to lose two three-set, close matches,” Clinton coach Mark Massey said, “but it certainly was good competition.”
The losses to Iowa City High, No. 4 in 5A, and North Scott, No. 5 in 4A, should make the Queens better, according to senior Alyssa Wing.
“We definitely needed this, especially going against Pleasant Valley on Tuesday, we needed matches as competitive,” she said.
All three matches had a familiar tone. The Queens lost the first game, then rebounded to win the second and force a third.
“We were just right there,” Massey said. “Our best against the other guy’s best wasn’t too bad most of the day.”
Both losses came against teams that also beat the Queens (18-8) earlier in the season.
North Scott, which went on to lose to top-ranked (5A) Ankeny in the championship match, pulled out a 21-19 win in the first set against Clinton before the Queens roared back to win 21-5 in the second. The Lancers came back to win the deciding game 15-8.
Still, it was a much better result for Clinton than when North Scott swept the Queens in the conference opener.
“North Scott beat us earlier with much less difficulty, and I thought we showed a lot of improvement,” Massey said.
“We lost the first game by only two (points), then Game 2 definitely boosted our confidence,” Wing said. “We made some adjustments.”
City High, which beat Clinton 23-21 in the deciding third set Sept. 8 at the North Scott tournament, opened with a 21-17 win against Clinton on Saturday, but the Queens won Game 2 21-8. The Queens then battled back several times in the third set before falling.
The Little Hawks built leads several times early, only to see Clinton come back. They appeared in control at 12-9, but Clinton scored three points in a row, pulling within 12-11 on a kill by Wing and tying the score on an ace serve by Elle Tubbs. The Little Hawks then scored the next three points for the 15-12 win.
“We just dominated Game 2,” Massey said, “(but) we didn’t finish Game 3.”
Wing said: “Losing two again sucks, but it helps us. We have to finish our game.”
The Queens did just that as they concluded pool play with a 19-21, 21-18, 15-13 win against Moline.
They pulled out the second set by scoring the final three points, with Monique Harris and Wing scoring them. A block by Harris put Clinton ahead 19-18. Next, Wing passed from the left to side to Harris on the right side, and she returned the ball with a set that Wing crushed to the center for a kill. Game point came on a set from Harris, who finished the day with 68 assists, to Wing for the kill.
The third game went back-and-forth early, but Moline appeared to have the upper hand when Rachel Wilson capped a four-point run with an ace that put the Maroons ahead 11-8. But Clinton responded with kills from Tubbs and Wing to get within 11-10.
Moline scored the next point, but a diving save by Harris kept the ball alive on the next rally and helped ignite a three-point run that put Clinton ahead 13-12. Moline evened the score, then Wing finished off the victory with a pair of kills. They were the 16th of 17th kills of the match for Wing, who finished the tournament with 34.
“To come back from a real tough match with City, we didn’t get off to a great start against Moline, but we battled and found a way to win,” Massey said. “I’m proud of the effort (today) but not surprised by it. The best thing from a day like today is it points out the need for consistency.”
The River Queens hope that lesson benefits them Tuesday when they hit the road to face second-ranked Pleasant Valley in a match that will help to determine the conference title. The Spartans are tied with North Scott for first place at 6-1 in conference matches, while Clinton is one-half game back at 5-1.
“We’re not really scared to go there, but we’ve got to be sure to do the little things,” Wing said. “We’ve got to pass — today we didn’t pass well. We have to do all the little things against Pleasant Valley.”
Massey said: “Pleasant Valley presents a lot of challenges, not the least of which is back-row defense. We’ve got to keep our serve-receive tight and challenge them with our serve.
“I hope we play our best. PV is one of those teams where you may have to play your best and get a few breaks and make them not play their best.”
Championship — Ankeny def. North Scott 25-15, 25-23.
Semifinals — Ankeny def. Iowa City High 25-10, 25-10; North Scott def. Bettendorf 25-18, 26-24.
Pool A — Ankeny def. Kaneland (Ill.) 21-10, 21-19; Bettendorf def. Waukee 21-15, 24-22; Ankeny def. Waukee 21-11, 21-17; Bettendorf def. Kaneland 21-12, 21-17; Ankeny def. Bettendorf 21-19, 21-19.
Pool B — North Scott def. Clinton 21-19, 5-21, 15-8; Iowa City High def. Moline (Ill.) 21-15, 21-8; North Scott def. Moline 21-10, 21-11; Iowa City High def. Clinton 21-17; 8-21; 15-12; Clinton def. Moline 19-21, 21-18, 15-13; North Scott def. Iowa City High 21-7, 21-9.