It’s always hard when you lose big groups of seniors.

Especially when you have a group like the Clinton volleyball seniors from 2018 – including two college players and a DI recruit.

The River Queens came off of an incredible season, ending just one game short of the Iowa High School State Volleyball Tournament in a loss to Dubuque Wahlert. They had pieces coming back, sure, but it wasn’t going to be like it was.

And it looked like it was going to be a long season at the very beginning. In their first 12 games they suffered 10 losses.

“We knew losing an experienced and talented senior class would open many positions for this current season,” head coach Micah Cewe said. “We have struggled with staying consistent this year, our biggest hurdle. Just like any team, we have had our highs and lows.”

Plus, they started 0-4 in Mississippi Athletic Conference play. On paper, it looked rough.

But you have to dig a little deeper. Their first four MAC games came against No. 3 North Scott, No. 10 Bettendorf, No. 1 Davenport Assumption and No. 7 Pleasant Valley.

The Queens were working out their lineup as well after losing as many starters as they did. They played around with different pieces, even switching to a 6-2 rotation with Brooke Mulholland swinging for a bit.

They then picked things up. They started putting up fights in every match, including finishing second at the Liberty tournament in late September. There, they knocked off their first ranked opponent in Urbandale. Later, they also knocked off Mount Vernon. In total, they played 17 ranked Iowa teams this year.

“The times we have played well – beating Mount Vernon and Urbandale earlier in the year – we have played consistent volleyball,” Cewe said. “There is no key to consistent volleyball besides that fact that you come to practice and matches with grit, perseverance and the will to win every single point.”

They switched back to the 5-1 rotation with Mulholland, which started to pick up some consistency. Different hitters, the likes of Navaeh Wagoner, Kelly Clark and Bailey Wing, started stepping up as well.

Then they won out MAC matches, finishing 4-4 in the conference, right in the middle of the pack.

“The MAC was front-loaded and has been now for four consecutive years since I’ve taken over,” Cewe said. “With those 4 teams being ranked in the Top 15 of their respective classes, we knew we had to play our best to compete every night in the MAC.

“I will never be happy finishing in 4th place, but the best we could do being down 0-4 in conference was to win out, and our girls passed the test and won four straight to finish the MAC on a high note. I was very proud of their effort in how we finished.”

Fourth place in a conference with four highly ranked teams certainly isn’t a bad place to be, especially when there wasn’t anything expected of you.

They’re just hitting their peak at the right time.

Strength of schedule is something that Cewe wants continuously year after year, and the Queens are currently proving why it’s important. As the Queens stepped into postseason on Wednesday, they looked confident. Although they have just 12 wins on their schedule, they easily handled a Maquoketa team with 25 wins.

“It was a process and nothing comes easy on the court when competing at a high level,” Cewe said. “Once you win a couple games it starts to become a confidence booster for our girls. The philosophy of “love to win, hate to lose mentally.”

The Queens will now move on in the postseason, facing Clear Creek – Amana next Tuesday. See B1 for a full game recap from Monday.