Once the playoffs begin, the volleyball team that plays the cleanest usually moves on.
That was on display Tuesday night when Bettendorf hosted Iowa City High in a Class 5A regional semifinal. The Bulldogs kept their errors to a minimum and took advantage of the Little Hawks' mistakes to sweep the match 25-12, 25-19, 25-16.
The Bulldogs (25-8) will travel to face Dowling Catholic in the regional championship match at 7 p.m. Monday for the right to get to state.
Bettendorf committed a total of 12 errors in the three sets, including just one in the first set to get things going. On the flip side, the Little Hawks (16-17) gave away a total of 33 points on various mistakes during the match, including 16 errors in the first set to dig themselves a hole.
Bulldogs senior Grace Erpelding, who was key for the hosts in all phases of the match, said the team has worked to play its cleanest volleyball of the season. Erpelding finished with 13 assists, 10 digs and five kills.
“There is no margin for error,” Erpelding said. “We have really focused on unforced errors in practice. We had a lot of drills during the week working on unforced errors. We want to be playing our best volleyball right now.”
Erpelding had a pair of aces and Erin Hatch had some strong serves for the Bulldogs in the first set as Bettendorf built an early 8-1 and eventual 20-9 edge. The Little Hawks were able to set up their offense but many of their hits went into the net or were too long. Erpelding said it was important to jump on the younger Iowa City squad which also just had an hour bus ride.
“It’s always difficult to play on the road and I think it kind of showed with them in the first set,” she said.
City actually had more kills (eight) than Bettendorf (six) in the first set but again the hosts kept their cool on scramble plays and didn’t try to over-hit the ball.
City got its act together in set two behind Kelsey Law (three kills) and Mackenzie Murphy (three blocks) to stay with Bettendorf through most of the game. The visitors were also aided by seven Bettendorf errors during the early portion of the set.
The Little Hawks led 17-16 but the Bulldogs picked up some key kills from Jordan Ratigan and Caroline Baer to re-establish control. Ratigan had two kills and a block and Baer hammered down two kills to help Bettendorf get at 23-18 edge. Hatch later finished off the set with an ace.
Emma Ostrom teamed with Baer, Allyson Grothusen and Lita Solbrig to establish strength at the net in Game 3. Grothusen had three of her five kills in the final game while Solbrig put down key kills to help the Bulldogs pull away from a 15-13 margin. Ostrom had seven kills and Baer finished with six kills to lead the well-rounded attack. Solbrig put down three blocks for the winners in the match.
Abbey Fromi guided the offensive attack with 16 assists for the home team.
Bettendorf also turned in a great defensive performance as five different players reached double figures in digs. Baer and Hatch each finished with 11 digs while Ostrom and Fromi both contributed 10 digs.
Perhaps most impressive was the way the Bulldogs kept plays alive on scrambles. On numerous occasions Bulldog players dove, used a part of their arms and legs to keep plays alive. On one instance, three Bulldog players crashed to the ground and teammates avoided the pile-up to play the ball back to City. Bettendorf eventually won the point.
“We covered the court really well and made a lot of second and third efforts (defensively),” Bulldogs coach Diane Licthenberg said. “I really liked that effort and hustle and that’s key going forward.”
The Little Hawks were led by Law (nine kills) and Murphy (eight kills). Ellie Evans had three aces and Lindsey Bolton finished with 20 assists for City. Evans also had 11 digs for the visitors while Bolton (seven digs) and Law (seven digs) also contributed defensively.
“When you make those mistakes early on, you take yourself down mentally,” Little Hawks coach Craig Pitcher said. “Then it takes so much to try and get back up. Sets two and three, we finally started to relax but we were behind. We told them all year that you can compete and play with anybody but we could never get that win against a team, that on paper, we are not supposed to beat.”