If the true measure of a champion is desire, heart and the willingness to fight until the very end, the 2017 Pleasant Valley volleyball team will always be remembered as champions.
Unfortunately, the Spartans came up a little short on the scoreboard Monday night in their Class 5A regional final against Urbandale. In an epic five-set match, the J-Hawks outlasted the host Spartans, 26-28, 25-22, 27-25, 21-25, 20-18 to claim the regional crown and advance to the state tournament.
In a match in which every point felt like it was the state title point, neither team would give any ground, at any point, which left the players, coaches and, most likely, even the fans from both sides completely emotionally exhausted. Pleasant Valley's season ends with a record of 28-5.
"This is such an outstanding group of young ladies," an emotional Spartans coach Amber Hall said afterwards. "They are amazing. Everything I do and say, they do, no questions asked. This match just showed the desire that both teams had and that both teams wanted to win."
The agonizing part for the Spartans was they were within one point of making it to the state tournament. After rallying from being down two sets to one, Pleasant Valley was ahead 14-13 in the fifth set and serving for match point. In what could be described as an almost unbelievable rally, the teams traded volleys for close to 2½ minutes.
Twice the ball hit the rafters in Pleasant Valley's gym and both times, both teams had the poise to save the ball and keep playing. The iron will to not let the ball drop was a sight to see as players dove to save shots and used every part of their arms and hands to keep play alive.
Eventually, Urbandale saved its season by getting a tip-kill from Mylea Cole to even the match at 14-14.
The teams went back-and-forth into what eventually turned into a kill-for-kill battle between the Spartans' Elissa Moylan and the J-Hawks Zaiah Clark. Of the final 10 points recorded in the match between the two teams, Moylan had three kills and Clark had four.
At one point, Moylan tied the match for PV only to have Clark put the visitors back on top on three different occasions. Eventually, a kill from Emily DeDoncker and a tip-kill on match point from Jayden Walter clinched the match.
Pleasant Valley had a hard time containing Clark and DeDoncker. The senior duo from Urbandale (24-13) combined to record 43 kills with Clark finishing with a match-high 24.
Moylan was up to the task as well, putting down 22 kills in her final high school match. Erica Brohm (14 kills) and Alana Woolison (13 kills) were huge for the hosts as well. Brooke Harris contributed 54 assists while Emily Wood recorded a match-high 33 digs. Harris also had 24 digs and Kelsey Ruff finished with 17 digs.
Ruff was stellar behind the service line as well for PV, rallying the hosts back from a 15-11 deficit in Game 4 with eight straight service points to give PV a 19-15 lead that they did not surrender in forcing a Game 5. Ruff also had a match-high four aces.
Although the J-Hawks came into the match with 13 losses, Urbandale coach Liz Baethke said she knew her team was battle-tested after playing a brutal conference schedule.
"The whole time, even when I woke up this morning, this match had the feel of a state tournament match and it lived up to it," Baethke said. "Our entire conference is incredible, Waukee, Ankeny, West Des Moines Valley, and on and on ...
"It's kind of all up for grabs and it's for whoever wins the day. I give Pleasant Valley credit. They battled and it is a shame someone had to lose."
Pleasant Valley won the Game 1 slugfest by being just slighly stronger at the net with kills from Moylan, Brohm, Wood, Kara Neuhaus and even Harris got into the act with some key, tip-kills. But Clark and DeDoncker started to assert themselves in the second and third game wins while PV's offense struggled a bit with hitting errors and not spreading its offense around enough.
But the hosts fought through adversity to take Game 4 and appeared to be in good shape in the final game. Pleasant Valley led 8-6, 10-7 and 13-11 at various points. But Urbandale found a way to get the ball to Clark and DeDoncker when it mattered.
But what will be remembered by the Spartan faithful was a co-conference championship in the Mississippi Athletic Conference this season and leaving everything they had on the court Monday night.
"The culture that they created, even from the beginning of the year, is amazing. I could not be more proud," Hall said.