CEDAR RAPIDS — At a new venue but on the same big stage, the Bettendorf Bulldogs looked right at home Tuesday as they began their title defense at the Class 5A state volleyball tournament.
Returning eight players from last year’s squad that won the school’s first volleyball championship, the Bulldogs overpowered Dubuque Hempstead for a 25-15, 25-20, 25-14 victory in the quarterfinal round at U.S. Cellular Center. They will face Ankeny Centennial (33-8) at 10 a.m. Thursday in the semifinals.
Bettendorf senior Caitlin Wernentin was named the all-tournament team captain a year ago when the event was played at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. When she and her teammates walked into the newly-renovated U.S. Cellular Center on Tuesday, she said it was time to look past last year and work on creating new memories.
“Going into this game we obviously wanted to go in confident, not cocky,” said Wernentin, who had five kills and seven digs in the match. “We just play so well as a team and we knew we had to keep doing that.
“We don't even think about last year. We won it, that was last year, but this is a whole new year with new players.”
One of those new players is Bettendorf senior Devan Porter, who had a team-high 10 kills, three solo blocks and recorded an ace serve on match point. She won a state title last year in Tennessee before enrolling at Bettendorf last January.
Enjoying herself on her new team, Porter said she savored her first taste of the Iowa state tournament atmosphere.
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“The amount of people that are here compared to the amount of people at a state game in Tennessee is just completely different,” said the future Georgia Bulldog. “There are so many more people here and the atmosphere is so exciting and you can tell everyone who came really cares and wants to see us succeed and do well.”
The Bulldogs' fans had a lot to cheer about early as Bettendorf (35-2) followed a couple of early errors with an 8-0 run to jump ahead 11-4. Their lead never fell below six points the rest of the set.
A key was Bettendorf’s block neutralizing Hempstead outside hitter Lauren Streets, the Mississippi Valley Conference-Mississippi Division MVP who came into Tuesday averaging 3.71 kills per set. She finished with a match-high 11 kills, but also had 10 attack errors — one less than Bettendorf had as a team. The Bulldogs’ block helped limit Hempstead (34-6) to a .039 kill percentage for the match.
“We definitely wanted to shut (Streets) down, so I tried to put one of my biggest blocks up against her and I thought they did a nice job,” Bettendorf coach Diane Lichtenberg said. “I thought we served really aggressively, actually, and got them out of system a lot and that was also one of our goals.”
The Mustangs regained their composure in the second set and played even with Bettendorf early on. Tied at 13-13, the Bulldogs went on a 3-0 run capped by an ace by sophomore setter Megan Sharkey and led the rest of the way. Sharkey finished with four of her team’s eight aces in the match.
The Bulldogs kept up their defense in the third set and never let a ball hit the ground without making an effort to keep it off the floor. They used a 6-0 run midway through the set to pull away.
It was exactly the type of performance Bettendorf was hoping for to begin its state tournament title defense.
“We’ve been working on focusing and not lulling,” said Anna Willey, who had eight kills, 13 set assists and three block assists Tuesday. “At the beginning of the season we’d get through a set and then kind of dip a little. We're really working on pushing forward and moving on. We don't want to let a team get more than three points at a time. We need to push and push to the finish.”