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Lady Spartans move to 3A with an eye on WaMaC title

SOLON– After being the runner-up team the past two years in the State Class 4A volleyball tournament, the Lady Spartans have dropped back to Class 3A for the 2014 season.
A 3-0 regional final win over Clear Creek Amana sent the Spartans to the state tournament where they knocked off Indianola 3-1, and Davenport Assumption 3-0 before falling 3-1 to Harlan in the championship last November. This season, coach Peter Gustin (in his third year with the program) returns three senior starters: Taylor Nearad, Jordan Runge and Jordan Smith.
“My expectation is that this year’s seniors will raise the expectation in our gym,” Gustin said. “While we’ve seen great success the past few years, there’s nothing this group wants more than to hang a championship banner--that feeling is palpable in our gym. The girls understand we have a difficult road ahead if we’re going to achieve that goal, but I am extremely pleased with the effort I’ve seen in just the first week of practice.”
Nearad was a second team all-conference pick as a setter while Runge, a middle hitter and opposite was a first team all-conference and all-district pick as well as earning a berth on the Des Moines Register’s first team all-state team and the Iowa Girls Coaches’ Association’s (IGCA) all-state second team. Smith, an outside hitter, earned first team all-conference and all-district honors in addition to a spot on the Class 4A all-tournament team. Smith also earned an IGCA all-state honorable mention team spot.
Also returning this season are Grace McCarty (sophomore libero/defensive specialist), Reed McCarty (senior libero/defensive specialist), Katie Moore (junior setter) and Courtney Smyth (senior middle hitter). Gustin and company also welcome newcomers Josey Hajek (junior middle hitter/opposite hitter), Jess Heick (sophomore outside hitter) and Grace Keith (freshman outside hitter).
“With last year’s seniors moving on, we do lose talent and leadership,” Gustin said, “but we have girls who are hungry to jump in and make their impact.”
He sees his team battling the Mustangs of Mount Vernon and the Hawks of West Delaware for the WaMaC East Conference title. Solon won the WaMaC tournament last year.
“The WaMaC is loaded this year, and both sides of the conference should have a very tight finish,” he said.
The season opens Thursday, Aug. 28, on the road in Tiffin with the Clear Creek Amana Clippers.
“The potential for early growing pains exists with the lack of overall experience, but our focus remains on our growth and where we are at the end of the season,” Gustin noted.