WILTON, Iowa — The Wilton volleyball team is used to feeling disrespected. It did, after all, have to win its first 15 consecutive matches to break into the Class 2A state rankings.
Now, despite a school-record 36 wins, the fourth most among the eight teams in the Class 2A state tournament, and fresh off handily defeating No. 1 Grundy Center in four sets, the Beavers will enter Cedar Rapids as the eighth seed.
“You beat the number one team and they put you at eight to play the number two team,” coach Brenda Grunder said. “We kind of wear that as a badge of pride right now because you have to beat the rated teams at some point to get the prize.
“They’re not intimidated by that number anymore.”
Wilton take on No. 2 Dyersville Beckman in the state quarterfinals at 2 p.m. today at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
“Just go out and do what we can,” senior Becca Ball said of Wednesday’s matchup. “There are a lot of seniors on this team, so it’s our last season, go out and leave it on the court.”
The journey to this point began a year ago when Wilton dropped a disappointing four-set match to Iowa City Regina in the 2017 regional championship game. That moment led to the motto for this year’s team: "Courage is acquired."
“I told them those experiences help us build on that next opportunity,” Grunder said. “This is the point where details matter.”
Indeed, it took a fair amount of courage in big moments for the Beavers to reach this point. Down two sets and 22-15 in the third at home to West Branch, it seemed No. 11 Wilton was destined for another premature ending. The Beavers battled back to rally past the Bears in five sets.
Grunder says the team learned a few valuable lessons that day, too.
“They started out nervous and realized in our first two rounds they were just too nervous,” Grunder said. “I could tell a big difference on the bus, in the locker room and in pregame against Grundy Center.”
Now, all of the seniors that experienced heartbreak in last year’s regional final have the Beavers in their first state tournament since 2004.
Aubrey Putman has led the way all season for the Beavers, becoming a more well-rounded player which Grunder expects of her senior. The Beaver standout has 448 kills, the most in Class 2A, and has also totaled 264 digs, 54 aces and 38 blocks.
Grunder also praised the defensive ability of senior Eleney Owens, and the intimidating block that Putman as well as seniors Kortney Drake and Emily Lange form.
The senior class has been aided by the quick development of freshmen Kortney Drake, Ella Caffery and Alexa Garvin.
“They’ve filled the spots of the seniors that graduated (last year) really well,” Owens said. “I personally wasn’t expecting them to come out (this well).”
Kelsey Drake is fourth on the team with 133 kills, third with 30 aces and third with 210 digs. Garvin, meanwhile, has 61 kills, 23 aces and 157 digs and Caffery has 779 assists, seventh most in Class 2A.
“I didn’t really think I’d be that important to the team,” Caffery said. “It’s kind of stressful because I’ve never done this before. I’ve never even set a whole season and now we’re at the state tournament.”