The bus never showed up at Davenport North on Wednesday evening to take the volleyball team across town for its Class 5A regional opener.

Players had to hop in vehicles of the coaching staff to get to the match.

It resulted in North arriving late to Davenport Central's George Marshall Gymnasium, but there was nothing absent about the Wildcats' performance.

Thanks to 17 service aces and 14 blocks, North avenged a regular-season loss to Central with a 25-15, 22-25, 25-21, 25-16 triumph.

"It was a little nerve-racking (having no bus)," sophomore Bailey Ortega said, "but I think it allowed us to just kind of let loose and have more fun."

The Wildcats built sizable margins in every set — 11-4 in the first and second sets, 12-3 in the third and 14-5 in the fourth.

Ortega led the charge behind the service line with seven aces. Katie Platt and Kayla Sheraden each had three.

"We like to serve aggressively," Morgan Pollmiller said.

Besides mixing up speeds, North (12-12) placed the serve between the front-third and back-third of Central's side of the net.

"We did a good job of mixing it up and making those passers move," North coach April Rauch said.

Conversely, Central (11-15) never could get comfortable.

"North did a good job of destroying our serve receive," Central coach Janelle Hester said. "They challenged our passers, pushed them out of their comfort zone and served extremely aggressive and consistent."

The Blue Devils also were undone by 13 service errors, including one on match point. It has been a problem for Central all season as it ranks last in the Mississippi Athletic Conference in serve efficiency at .782.

"We just lost confidence behind the line," Hester said. "When you give teams free points, it is hard to come back from being down five or six points."

When Central did get into the point, it usually had to maneuver its way around North's block.

Megan Reem finished with seven blocks while the sophomore tandem of Ortega and Justyus Jackson combined for seven.

"Our middles did a really good job of pressing across," Rauch said, "and our outsides did a much better job of lining up with their pin hitters."

North was just as scrappy in the back row. Abigail Ohland recorded a team-high 18 digs.

"They had an eye-of-the-tiger mentality," Hester said. "Nothing dropped on their side. They were aggressive and assertive across the board."

Rauch said her team was eager for a rematch with Central since losing to its city rival in four sets in late August.

Even though the Wildcats won only two matches during the MAC season, they knew they had made considerable improvement since that meeting.

"We did not want the season to end," Pollmiller said. "We wanted to shock everyone so they can see what we're capable of doing."

North has had some lean years recently in volleyball. The program had only 11 wins in the last three seasons combined.

But with Ortega and Jackson leading the charge, brighter days are on the horizon.

"This team has been looked down upon, so when Justyus and I came in, we were like we need to bring this program up," Ortega said. "We know we have the individuals to do that. We needed to become a team, and that's what we've worked on. We showed that on the court tonight."

North's tournament journey continues Tuesday in a regional semifinal at 11th-ranked Iowa City West.

For Central, it marked the end of Hester's first season. The Blue Devils graduate only two seniors.

Raina Smith (16 kills), Neveah Camp (15 kills) and Kami Knutsen (39 assists, 17 digs) all return next fall.

"We need to focus on team chemistry and confidence," Hester said. "The game of volleyball is so complicated and so emotional. You've got to maintain yourself, keep composed and stay calm in stressful situations.

"We didn't have that tonight."


Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.