By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– Tears of sorrow and tears of joy bookended Tuesday night on the West High volleyball court.
West High’s gym filled to honor its volleyball seniors Oct. 18, as the number one and number four teams battled to five sets for the Valley Division Championship.
Game five was a gut-wrenching point-for-point slug fest which seesawed back and forth to 19-18 when a wide shot by Dubuque Hempstead gave West a desperately-needed point and the bench and bleachers both emptied onto the court where hugs, tears, and the sound of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” combined for an outpouring of raw emotions.
The West High Women of Troy won the 2011 MVC Valley Division Championship, defeating Dubuque Hempstead at home on Senior Night, 25-22, 25-18, 19-25, 21-25 and 20-18.
Before the varsity match with Dubuque Hempstead, the West seniors were introduced and honored for their efforts. West High said goodbye to Olivia “Eunice” Fairfield, Kelley “Miss Pretty” Fliehler, Caroline “Secret Weapon” Hartman, Hannah “Easter Bunny” Infelt, Olivia “Squeaks” Mekies, Anna “The Russian” Pashkova, manager Cat “Meow” Rebelskey and Shelly “Icy Hot” Stumpff.
A special goodbye was said to the late and beloved Caroline Found as her father, Ernie, received a standing ovation.
Coach Kathy Bresnahan was honored as well for her 20 years at West and for picking up her 600th career win. Coincidently, the victory came at the expense of Hempstead the previous weekend in the conference tournament.
West entered the match ranked No. 1 for three weeks, according to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, and brought a 33-6 record into the battle. Fourth-ranked Hempstead came to town with a 28-8 record.
West trailed most of the first game before knotting the score 15-15 with a Mollie Mason kill, and were down by three points before a late rally with kills by freshman Laynie Whitehead and senior Shelly Stumpff. Olivia Fairfield put the exclamation point on the final point for a 25-22 win.
The Women of Troy used a three-point run on Hempstead errors to take the lead in the second game. Stumpff and Fairfield pounded in three kills for a 17-9 lead, and West maintained a healthy margin until a Stumpff kill put it away, 25-18.
“I thought for sure when we won the first two, we’d win 3-0,” Bresnahan said after the match. But, it wasn’t to be. The tooth-and-nail struggle continued.
Mason put up West’s first kill for a 4-3 lead in the third, and West pulled ahead by six points, but the Mustangs came galloping back in three-point runs. An ace by Pashkova gave West an 18-13 lead, but two kills and an error narrowed the gap to two points. Mistakes gave Dubuque a 20-19 lead before a Fairfield kill tied the game. Hempstead scored the final five points of the game, and took the 25-20 win and the momentum.
The Mustangs stampeded to an 8-4 lead in the fourth game, but West recovered and briefly surged ahead. The two teams traded points until the close of the game when West slipped to a 21-18 deficit, then fell 25-21 and steeled themselves for game five.
“When Hempstead won, I turned to my bench and said ‘I’m not sure how we’ll come back from this now,’” Bresnahan said. “They had everything going for them. We couldn’t slow down Reeg (Hempstead junior outside hitter Audrey Reeg), our hitters were off, our people were tight.”
But, the coach added, “we’re scary when we lose.”
Dubuque posted a 3-2 lead in the fifth and deciding game before four West kills, including two from Mason, shifted the balance to the Women of Troy. Down 6-3, Hempstead coach Randy Dolson took a time-out. The Mustangs rallied after with a four-point run, and the rest of the game surged back and forth with kills from Stumpff, Fairfield and Infelt, bringing it to a 19-18 West lead.
The Hempstead shot went wide, and the bench and bleachers both emptied out onto the court.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” Bresnahan said. “The emotions started showing through.
“We told them all night to relax,” she added, noting at one point she called for somebody, anybody to “go in and tell a joke!” The coach gave props to Hempstead, calling them the team of the future. But, she added, “we’re the team right now. Most teams would’ve rolled over. Our kids have a lot of heart, and in the fifth, I think they just refused to lose that way.”
“We just wanted it real bad,” senior Anna Pashkova said of the win.
The victory gave West its fourth conference championship. The squad received a bye for the first round of Class 4A Regional Volleyball and will take on the winner of the Des Moines Roosevelt and Newton contest on Thursday night, Oct. 27, at home with a 7 p.m. start time.