EPWORTH – Something just didn’t click for the Clinton volleyball team on Monday night in Epworth.
It could have been shaky defense throwing everything else off after it. It could have been nerves with a slew of athletes who had never been in a sub-state match. Or it could have just been an off day.
“Tonight, unfortunately, we just didn’t bring it when we needed to bring it the most,” Clinton head coach Micah Cewe said. “Our girls wanted, we knew what they were going to bring and they played exceptionally well. They didn’t just didn’t make mistakes where we did, and it just snowballing until we kind of got stuck.”
Either way, it ended in a 3-0 (25-16, 25-10, 25-15) loss to Western Dubuque in the Class 4A regional final, sending the Bobcats on to the Iowa High School State Volleyball Championships and the River Queens on a long bus ride back to Clinton.
However, it was the River Queens with the quick start in Set 1. They rattled off three straight points, sending cheers through the packed gymnasium and smiles on the faces of the Queens.
Things collapsed from there.
Clinton struggled to get passes to setter Brooke Mulholland, especially on serve receive. This left the River Queens out of system and not sending many strong attacks over to the Bobcats.
“Swinging aggressively is when we got our kills,” Cewe said. “Tips and free balls, you’re just not going to get kills.”
After the Bobcats tied everything up 8-8, they continued to extend their lead. The defense, paired with some serving errors, kept the River Queens clawing at a greater and greater deficit.
“We tried to pride ourselves on defense,” Cewe said. “Tonight we were just a step slow. They were attacking in-system a lot and we just couldn’t slow them down.”
They looked tight to start Set 2, but an ace from Nevaeh Wagoner and a block from Kaylee Camp loosened them up.
With a Camp kill and an ace from Brooke Mulholland, the Queens were within one at 11-10.
Then, the Bobcats went on a roll. They finished the set from there, putting away 14 straight points.
That was hard for the Queens to bounce back from.
The Bobcats immediately jumped out to an 8-3 lead with their state berth within reaching distance. Like they had been most of the night, Western Dubuque was throwing a mixture that the Clinton defense just couldn’t figure out.
Western Dubuque’s setter, Madison Maahs, had quick hands that threw off the block and a back tip that caught the Queens off guard on several occasions.
“She places the ball in the hitter’s window the majority of the time,” Cewe said. “Her shoots to the pin were consistent, her back sets and her tips. Tonight, it was just hard for us to defend. We couldn’t make the adjustments and it seemed like we were always working from behind.”
Plus, multiple Bobcats had powerful swings, especially from the outside.
The Queens went on a run to close within nine points, kicking off with a powerful kill from Wing and then a string of her serves. Wing ended with a team-high six kills while fellow senior Kaylee Camp had five.
“They really did want it,” Cewe said. “That’s them stepping up and giving what they could for the team.”
They were too far back, though, to get close and watched the Bobcats get their state banner from the sidelines.
Clinton finishes it’s 2019 campaign 13-23. Their journey to the regional final included a win over Maquoketa and a win over No. 14 Clear-Creek Amana, putting them in the final 16 teams playing in Class 4A for the second year in a row.
“We had talked about from the beginning of the year to now about the rollercoasters, the ups and downs,” Cewe said. “We had our downs but we found ways to dig ourselves out, whether it was a bad tournament or bad match and recover. We did that towards the end of the season, played our best volleyball, and that’s really when it counts.”