SHENANDOAH, Iowa — Clarinda aced its first test.
Its next one likely will require a bit more work.
Jenny Bair swatted 18 kills and fellow senior Darcy Sunderman added 11 as the Cardinals opened Class 3-A regional play on Monday with a 25-20, 25-19, 25-13 victory over Shenandoah.
The win moves Clarinda (19-9) into Thursday's 7 p.m. regional semifinal at Red Oak against state No. 6 Red Oak (25-6), which easily swept Clarke 25-6, 25-8, 25-13. The winner of that match will play either Albia (15-9) or Interstate 35 (14-10) in Creston on Nov. 5 for a trip to state.
The last six times Red Oak and Clarinda have played, they have played a decisive set to 15. Red Oak has won all six.
“I want to win so bad,” Clarinda coach Jessica Lewey said. “It's a mental game for the girls. It's just a matter of being able to take care of business mentally. Not playing safe, playing aggressive.”
On Monday, Clarinda stayed aggressive, even though Shenandoah pushed it in the first set. The Fillies trailed 20-18 in the opener behind the net play of juniors Sydney Nielsen and Serena Parker. But then they had an errant hit, a rotation violation and a net violation to give the Cardinals some cushion at 23-18. Clarinda closed it out moments later.
Shenandoah (22-14) missed four serves in the first set, reducing the impact of some strong net play.
“Mentally it would have been big if we could have gotten that first set,” Shenandoah coach Jon Skillern said. “Give them credit. They don't make a lot of unforced errors, and we made too many.”
After making it to state her freshman year, Bair desperately wants to go back. She knows Red Oak will present another great challenge. Both teams would love to walk away with victories before another fifth set.
“We know their hitters and we know what they can do,” she said. “We just need to stay focused in the game.”
Monday's match wrapped up a season like no other in Shenandoah history. Head coach Chad Van Houten, 45, died on July 16 in an automobile accident. The Fillies were set to scrimmage other schools the night of his death.
Skillern took over the team. He said the girls played with tremendous spirit throughout the season.
“I couldn't be prouder,” he said. “To overcome the adversity that they had to overcome to start the season, and how accepting they were of all of us as a coaching staff.”
Skillern said the girls may not remember every set and spike from the 2013 season. They'll remember much more than that.
“This was an incredible life lesson,” he said, “that no matter what life throws at you, life still does go on, and you have to figure out a way to deal with it. And these girls, with the help of a lot of people, figured out a way to overcome it.”
Clarinda (19-9)...........................25 25 25
Shenandoah (22-14)...................20 19 13
C (kills-aces-blocks): Rachael Bair 0-0-1, Paige Fast 0-2-0, Darcy Sunderman 11-1-1, Natali Donahue 0-1-0, Karyee Buch 3-0-0, Baillee Warren 7-0-0, Jenny Bair 18-0-1, Abby Brown 2-0-1.
S: Emma Christensen 0-0-0, Jordan Major 0-0-0, Jaime Runyon 0-0-0, Heidi Fichter 2-0-0, Sydney Nielsen 11-0-1, Brianna Holmes 3-0-0, Logan Ehlers 2-0-0, Darby Skillern 2-0-0, Mikayla Palmer 0-0-0, Serena Parker 6-0-0.
Set assists: C, R. Bair 37, Brown 1. S, Fichter 21, Nielsen 1, Skillern 1.