COUNCIL BLUFFS — So much for rust.
For nearly two weeks, the Council Bluffs St. Albert volleyball team practiced. And scouted. And practiced some more.
The Saintes showed no signs of a letdown during their first match in 12 days Tuesday night. Instead, the well-rested group turned in a tidy 25-21, 25-15, 25-17 sweep of Missouri Valley during an Iowa Class 2-A regional quarterfinal at St. Albert High School.
“It feels great because we know we’ve been working on it,” Saintes setter Matti Munger said. “We put it into the game and it feels great. We’ve been gearing up for this.”
No. 5 St. Albert (26-10) trailed for all of two rallies against the Lady Reds (19-11) in its playoff opener. Senior Nevada Meis posted a match-high 16 kills and junior Kylie Ferguson and sophomore Alli Wettengel joined her in double figures with 11 and 10, respectively.
Each hitter had to earn her totals against a stingy Missouri Valley back-row defense and lanky blocking front. But that was certainly preferable to yet another after-school workout with each other.
“Finally,” St. Albert coach Angie Lantz said. “It seems like forever since we’ve played. We’re happy to be back in the gym.”
The Saintes will stay on their own court Friday when they will take on No. 14 Underwood (23-8) at 7 p.m. in a Region 2 semifinal. The Council Bluffs team swept Underwood in three sets and won 2-1 all within a week in early September.
But Missouri Valley didn’t go quietly Tuesday. Despite falling behind 8-2 to start the match, it clawed back to within 22-20 on an overpass kill from libero Becca Taylo. Meis closed out the set with three kills in the final four points.
The Lady Reds knotted the match at eight in the second set before succumbing to a crippling 11-3 Saintes run. The teams were squared at 16 in the finale, but St. Albert junior Josie Thomas served out the last six points of a 9-1 surge.
“Tonight they played their best defensive game for sure,” Missouri Valley coach Tammy Gatrost said. “We did a lot of things the best we have all season, and that’s where you want to be toward the end.”
Senior Hailey Hellstrom and Taylo highlighted some impressive digs for Missouri Valley against St. Albert’s slew of hard hitters. Taylor Gardner played her final prep match alongside fellow starter Hellstrom, with Heather Jones and Tabby Pickett also set to graduate.
Gardner converted on six kills, while junior Rachelle Housh led the way with eight.
“We actually played a lot better than we normally do,” Hellstrom said. “Tay (Gardner) and I have been playing for four years together and it just stinks to walk away not being able to win.”
The Saintes did just that, with a service ace advantage of 8-1 also helping their cause.
After an extended break, St. Albert is embracing a fresh start. It ended the regular season 7-7 after an 18-3 start.
The new focus? A playoff run it hopes ends at the state tournament for a second straight year.
“We’ve been eager to get to this game for a long time,” Lantz said. “For us to come out how we did, it was good. We needed that.”
Missouri Valley (19-11) .................. 21 15 17
At St. Albert (26-10) .................. 25 25 25
MV (kills-aces-blocks): Baily Janssen 0-0-0, Kyra Skelton 0-0-4, Kimiko Wagner 1-0-4, Rachelle Housh 8-0-4, Hailey Hellstrom 4-1-3, Becca Taylo 1-0-0, Taylor Gardner 6-0-0.
SA: Grace Wettengel 1-1-1, Matti Munger 2-1-1, Josie Thomas 0-3-0, Alli Wettengel 10-1-2, Kylie Ferguson 11-0-1, Nevada Meis 16-1-3, Joni Thomas 4-0-2, Katie Kuck 0-1-0.
Set assists: MV, Janssen 17; SA, Munger 35, Joni Thomas 2, Josie Thomas 3, Grace Wettengel 1.