DUBUQUE — The River Queens knew they were in for a battle facing No. 4 Wahlert Catholic in their regional championship game, and they made too many mistakes to grab the Class 4A state berth on Monday night.
The Golden Eagles defeated the Queens 25-15, 20-25, 25-21, 25-20 to move to the big stage in Cedar Rapids.
“Wahlert earned that game,” Clinton head coach Micah Cewe said. “We talked about earning it all year, earning every single point. We did that at times tonight, but we needed to stay more consistent.”
It took a set for the River Queens to warm up, with mistakes riddling the first set. Serving errors and attack errors alike stopped the River Queens from ever getting into the fluid play they’re used to.
Plus, the block was having trouble finding outside hitter Aliyah Carter and middle hitter Carolyn Conlon, making the first set look like hitting practice for the Eagles.
“I think we just had to shake our nerves in the first set,” senior middle blocker Grace Tubbs said. “We’re notorious for not starting games well. I think we just needed to shake the nerves and get ready to play.”
In between the first two sets you could hear the same words spilling from the Clinton coaching staff: we beat ourselves.
“We’ve had sets like that before this year but we’ve been able to recover,” Cewe said. “We didn’t want to focus much on the first set. We said we need to put that behind us, move on, it’s 0-0.”
They fell behind fast in Set 2 as well, behind by as many as 11 at one point but they came roaring back. They tied everything up for the first time at 16-16 with a kill from senior Grace Tubbs. They ran away with it from there.
The River Queens looked their best in the middle of the match. The back row was making incredible saves and the blocks were throwing off the Eagles’ power hitters.
“We knew we would not be able to shut down Aliyah Carter,” Cewe said about the hard hitting outside hitter. “We knew if we could slow her down with some block touches, we would have our defense get some ups.”
Not to mention that the Clinton serving and swings were throwing them out of system nearly every play. They played like they were ahead the entire game, building confidence with each point. It helped them even up the series to give themselves a fighting chance and leave the momentum in their direction.
But, once again in the third set they fell behind.
“Honestly, I think most of us were nervous,” senior Molly Chapman said. “We weren’t confident and we weren’t playing together at all. We played timid and didn’t play to win.”
They dug back quicker this time, tying it up at 14-14. They took an 18-15 lead to force a Wahlert timeout.,
With the Queens up 19-16 they took off led by a big solo block and a huge swing from senior Molly Chapman.
“It felt great,” Chapman said, with the team energy climbing.
“It’s one of the most momentum changing things you can do in a game like that,” Tubbs said. “I think getting one or two in a row, it flips the momentum and gets your confidence going.”
They had everything tied up at 21-21 still, but watched the Eagles score four consecutive points to cap off the set and take the 2-1 lead.
They still believed they had it even though they were down two sets, and it showed. They were still playing great volleyball
“We ended the third set pretty well,” Tubbs said. “If any team could have come back two sets it would be us. I really thought we had what it took to do it.”
They had the Eagles on their heels in the must-win Set 4-- that is up until the very end. A couple of mistakes on their side of the net haunted them as the set went on and Carter and Conlon took control with huge swings to take the last set 25-20.
“We stopped having fun,” Chapman said. “We stopped making good plays. We lifted each other up but I don’t know if we fully believed in ourselves. I don’t know why we stopped believing.”
Clinton finished their season 27-11 with ten of those losses coming to state-ranked teams throughout the year.
“This isn’t what we wanted,” Tubbs said. “But beating great teams like Xavier and Johnston, it just goes to show even thought we didn’t have the height or didn’t have all the greatest hitters in the state but when you love your teammates and bond... have all the tangible things together you can do a lot of great things.”
The loss on Monday ends the prep careers of Grace Tubbs, Molly Chapman, Macy Mulholland, Megan Gandrup, Haley Dash, Mallory Melvin, Marissa Fullick, and Molly Ferguson.
“It’s special to be playing next to your best friends because honestly, we’ve been really close and genuinely love each other,” Chapman said about her teammates.
“I have a lot of love and respect for all my senior classmates,” Tubbs said.