If you’re looking to start the season with a bang, you probably wouldn’t choose to play Harlan Community in the first pool-play match of the first tournament of the season in Harlan’s gym.
“That’s just a shock in itself,’’ Underwood coach Paula Carman said. “They’re just incredible.’’
After a 21-7, 21-11 loss to the Cyclones, things didn’t get much easier for the Eagles. They lost a much more competitive match to a talented Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln bunch.
For a team expecting big things, an 0-2 start was less than desirable. But Carman’s crew rebounded with wins over Winterset, Denison-Schleswig and Treynor to close out a 3-2 showing on Aug. 31. Underwood took a 5-2 record and a No. 3 ranking in western Iowa (Class 2-A/1-A) into Thursday’s Western Iowa Conference opener at A-H-S-T.
Carman said she felt better about the first tournament after a day of reflection.
“Any day you beat Treynor is a good day,’’ Carman said. “Even though it wasn’t our best tournament as far as showing our skills, it ended up being a better day than what we (originally) felt like.’’
Despite dropping from first to second in the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s 4-A state ratings, also released Thursday, Harlan remains first in The World-Herald’s latest set of large-school ratings (Class 5-A/4-A/3-A). Council Bluffs St. Albert, with a four-set loss to large-school No. 4 Lewis Central its only blemish, continues atop the 2-A/1-A ratings. The ratings and records reflect play through Wednesday.
Underwood wasn’t severely tested in its only two matches since that initial tournament, and it’s eager to see more top-flight foes, starting Saturday at the Atlantic Invitational.
Among the 10 Eagles who received extensive playing time last year, five are back: seniors Lea Crouse, Allison Waters and twins Rachel and Regan Landen, along with sophomore Maddy Powell.
Seniors Josie Ausdemore and Tori Martinez also are in the current nine-girl rotation, along with sophomore Brooke Cooper and freshman Emma Bonnet.
“We do have six seniors that all play,’’ Carman said. “That’s any coach’s dream to have that many. I think we’ve done a good job of filling those holes with people who are going to compete at a good level.’’
The 5-foot-9 Powell leads the Eagles in kills per set (2.64) and kill efficiency (.302). She also gives her team something not always seen in Carman’s tenure: someone to fear in the middle.
“We’ve improved at getting her the ball,’’ the Underwood coach said. “She’s being more demanding as a middle hitter, which is what we needed her to do.’’
The primary setter in the 6-2 offense is the 5-5 Crouse, a bundle of energy who contributes in more ways than numbers.
“She’s been our quarterback for a season or two,’’ Carman said. “She’s a vocal leader. She’s an energetic leader. She’s that cheerleader for us. She kind of wraps all that up into one.’’
Underwood again lacks height. Among the nine in the rotation, only Powell and Waters (5-8) are taller than 5-7. To compensate for that, Carman said, eight of her nine regulars attended workout sessions at Innovative Strength and Conditioning, run by Andre Franco in nearby Neola.
Carman has noticed a difference, both physically and mentally.
“Andre has done a lot of work with the girls,’’ she said. “I think that’s helped us physically a lot. We’re hoping we can latch on to some of those tools to help get us through the big matches.’’