CLARKSVILLE — When you think of the phrase “rebuilding year,” what comes to mind?
A season filled with lots of losses and scarce victories? Sure.
One where a team misses the playoffs and struggles to get over .500? Why not?
A 10th straight berth in the state tournament? Probably not.
Yet here Janesville volleyball is, winner of yet another Class 1A regional tournament after sweeping No. 11 Gladbrook-Reinbeck (27-9) in Tuesday’s final in Clarksville.
The Wildcats had significant turnover with their roster this year, and head coach Shelly Sorensen and multiple players have dubbed this season a rebuilding one.
Yet the team still hasn’t missed out on state in a decade.
“They faced a battle here,” Sorensen said. “We knew it was going to be a tough match. We have just three starters returning from a year ago. I’m just so proud of how they handled the pressure and came through together and got the win.”
“It’s crazy to think we’re going back for a fourth year,” said senior Julia Meister after wiping away tears.
“This one’s special because it’s really a rebuilding year because we lost like five starters last year,” Meister continued. “We’re a pretty young team and not as experienced as we were last year. So to get back to the tournament is surreal.”
The 3-0 win (25-22, 25-19, 25-21) over the Rebels was the fifth straight victory for No. 3 Janesville, and the Wildcats did not lose a single set during the entirety of the regional tournament.
While it didn’t win a set Tuesday night, Gladbrook-Reinbeck had the look of a ranked team and kept it close with Janesville throughout the match.
“They’ve got some great hitters, and we tried to slow them down but they had a lot of kills,” Sorensen said.
The first set was particularly contentious, as the two teams were tied at 15-15 midway through.
Tuesday night even had the look of an upset at one point, as the Rebels led 21-19. But the Wildcats won four straight points to take back the lead, 23-21, and a G-R kill attempt that sailed too far gave Janesville the 25-22 first-set win.
“I think at first our biggest struggle was the nerves, because we knew this was the game to go to state,” Meister said. “And since we are inexperienced with that, I think we were a little nervous at first.”
From there, things would only go downhill for Gladbrook-Reinbeck as Janesville settled in, shook off the championship nerves and brandished the look of a team that’s won 33 matches in 2019.
Though senior Bailey Hoff was blocked twice in a row in the second set’s first two points and the Rebels took a 5-2 early lead, Janesville quickly stormed back and tied it at 5-5.
Soon enough, the Wildcats led 13-8 after a kill from sophomore Pyper McCarville, and a faulty serve from the Rebels gave Janesville the 25-19 second-set win.
The final set of the match was closer than the second, but Janesville controlled it the whole way after jumping out to a 5-2 lead. The Wildcats took the last set 25-21.
“We kind of just got used to how the game was going,” Meister said. “We adjusted where we need to set up, block and set up our defense. Everything fell into place.”
Janesville earned a No. 3 seed in the Class 1A state volleyball pairings, and it will play the high school that sits just 19 miles to the east.
No. 6 Wapsie Valley defeated Tripoli 3-1 on Tuesday night at Dunkerton High School and received the No. 6 seed in the state tournament, where the Warriors will play the Wildcats in Cedar Rapids.
The two teams met once in the regular season during an Oct. 5 tournament at Charles City High School, a match Janesville won 2-1.
Wapsie Valley is a formidable opponent for Janesville as the team lost just one set during the entirety of the Region 6 tournament. Having played the No. 11 Rebels will help the Wildcats prepare.
“This was a great battle and a great challenge for us, so that does help,” Sorensen said. “These guys are ranked, and we’ve also played a lot of strong teams in our regular season as well to try to prepare for the tough teams we’re going to see at state.”