SUMNER — The Denver volleyball team was playing with house money heading into Tuesday’s Class 2A Region 7 final against third-ranked Dyersville Beckman.
The 14th-rated team in Class 2A has no seniors on the team but had amassed a 27-14 record after winning four-set regional matches against West Fork and South Hardin in the quarterfinals and semis. As they entered the Blue Gymnasium at Sumner-Fredericksburg High School, either the powerful Trailblazers would punch their ticket to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids for next Wednesday, or the ingenue Cyclones would.
Chalk one up for the Goliaths.
The Blazers were dominant in their attack and on defense in limiting the Cyclones to a total of 32 points in a 25-13, 25-12, 25-7 sweep to qualify for the state tournament. On the bright side, Denver will have all its players returning for 2020.
Head coach Mara Forsyth had nothing but pride for her Cyclones.
“I love my girls, I love this team,” Forsyth said after the match. “We lose nobody. I’m expecting a lot next year, and so are they.
“Obviously, tonight didn’t go as planned, whether we won or we lost. We just didn’t play to our potential. The girls know that, we know that. Moving forward, learning to take such a big night and make it small and being able to not only conquer the team that we’re facing but all of the nerves and everything else that was inside of us.”
Forsyth said this match could have become larger than the Cyclones could handle.
“Just because they are a young team, which I hate to use as an excuse, I think it’s very exciting that they are as young as they are,” she said. “Moving forward, they are now able to know what after tonight what the expectations are and where it stands and kind of the things that go along with it and push through for next year and push through to the next leap.”
Beckman (40-8) took an early advantage, grabbing a 13-7 lead before Forsyth took her first timeout. Out of the huddle, Denver (27-15) responded with a 5-1 run to pull within 14-12, thanks to a kill and two aces by sophomore Allison Bonnette within that run. However, the Blazers went 11-1 to capture the opening set, started by a block by senior Jade Wilis on a Kayla Knowles attack. Within that, libero Olivia Hogan was able to get a dig on a Cyclone attack, which carried over the net and found the floor to give the Blazers a 19-12 lead. Beckman wound up with the 25-13 first-set win.
In set two, it was a similar pattern. The Blazers inched out to a 10-6 lead before the Cyclones pulled back to within 11-9 before a large run gave Beckman a 21-9 lead. Denver took three of the next four points, on a pair of errors and a Sydney Eggena ace, but a Wilis block and a Kiersten Schmitt kill closed out the set, 25-12.
Set three was all Beckman. The Blazers started with a 6-1 lead before Denver grabbed the next two points on errors, but then the team in white and green ran the next nine points to grab full control of the match. Beckman would not look back to grab the 25-7 win to take the match and head to Cedar Rapids.
Forsyth said Denver volleyball is a program that is under a metamorphosis.
“We’re changing a lot of different things that we’re doing when it comes to the team atmosphere and the mindset and the expectations that come along with being a part of this program,” she said. “When a program goes through big changes, there seems to be a little bit of lack of numbers. You make sure you have the girls 100% invested that are part of it.”
The leaders of the team heading into 2020 are current juniors Tiffani Wright and Jordyn Foelske. Forsyth said the team chose those two as team captains for 2019.
“They will come in, they are a part of this,” she said. “They’re 100% bought in. They trust the coaching staff, they trust the process. I couldn’t ask for better seniors for next year. They’re good captains. They set the tone for the rest of the team as well.”
Even though the high school volleyball season is over for the Cyclones, that doesn’t mean the players are done. Forsyth said her girls have the fire that can smolder over the offseason.
“I told the girls to go home and write a little letter to themselves,” she said. “Volleyball season is a long season. Not only can we do stuff the day we start practices, we do two-a-days for a week, but after postseason, we go to our AAU and USA teams all the way throughout the summer with our weightlifting and open gyms and camps and things like that.
“Helping them find that fire and that fight, we’re all working toward the same goal that always comes at the end of seasons. Helping them understand to find that fire when they need it.”