PERRY, Iowa — Carroll Kuemper registered four kills in the opening set.
Normally, that would signal a one-set deficit and cause for concern.
But Tuesday, Kuemper’s best offense was often a wall of defense. The third-rated Knights turned in a spectacular blocking performance to ignite a 25-22, 25-13, 25-17 Class 3-A regional final win over North Polk at Perry High School.
“I don’t know what came over us,” senior Claire Ludwig said of the Lady Knights’ blocking exploits. “We had kind of watched them, so we knew where they went and stuff, but that was awesome.”
Kuemper (26-4), rated second in western Iowa (Class 5-A/4-A/3-A) by The World-Herald, advanced to state for the third straight season and seventh time overall. The Knights will play fellow Hawkeye Ten member and No. 6 Red Oak (27-6) in a 10 a.m. state quarterfinal Nov. 13 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
Hawk-10 champ Harlan also advanced in 4-A, giving the league three qualifiers. A fourth, Council Bluffs St. Albert, will play in a 2-A regional final Wednesday. North Polk, which was seeking its first state tournament appearance, ends its season 24-10.
Kuemper coach Keith Stickrod said there’s been pressure throughout the season.
“The expectations this year were huge, so that was hard this year I think for me,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”
North Polk finished third in the Heart of Iowa Conference, behind 3-A qualifier Nevada and Roland-Story. The Comets were at a height and big-match disadvantage against Kuemper, but didn’t appear fazed in the opening set, racing to a 10-4 lead.
“I didn’t think they’d have anything that we wouldn’t be able to match,” North Polk coach Susan Nemmers said. “I have girls firing at all spots, just like they did.”
Nemmers said she didn’t anticipate the Knights blocking so effectively. Sophomore Paige Overmohle had a combined five blocks, Ludwig added four and junior Maria Dentlinger and sophomore Abby Derner added three each. Kuemper scored seven points on blocks in the first set to offset its hitting deficiencies.
“That’s something we stressed, to explode up in our blocks,” Stickrod said. “Maria and Paige just did an awesome job out there. Everybody did.”
Derner and Overmohle combined for a block to give Kuemper a 23-21 lead in the first set. After an errant Knight attack, Dentlinger’s kill gave the Hawkeye Ten third-place finishers a set point. A wide Comet hit closed it out.
Kuemper’s hitting attack got rolling in the second and third sets. The 5-foot-11 Ludwig smacked four of her team-high eight kills in the second, several with authority.
“I was just pumping,” Ludwig said with a wide grin. “I just got really excited.”
After an easy win in the second set, Kuemper led 12-11 in the third. But it took off on a 9-3 run, capped by consecutive kills from Dentlinger, to stretch it out to 21-14. A few points later, Ludwig found the floor with her final swing and the Kuemper students swarmed their classmates.
“We’ve had this for the last two years, but this is definitely the best feeling as a senior,” Ludwig said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
North Polk (24-10) ............. 22 13 17
Carroll Kuemper (26-4) ..... 25 25 25
NP (kills-aces-blocks): Megan Murphy 10-2-0, Jill Christensen 2-1-1, Lilly Lomica 6-1-1, Morgyn Bullock 0-1-0, Hannah Becker 2-0-0, Gracie Harmeyer 0-1-0, Miranda Murphy 2-0-3, Courtney Bonewitz 0-1-0.
CK: Hannah Macke 0-0-0, Karla Knobbe 0-2-0, Morgan Naberhaus 0-1-1, Taylor Boldt 0-1-0, Nicole Becker 6-0-0, Paige Overmohle 4-0-5, Claire Ludwig 8-2-4, Melissa Wagner 0-0-0, Abby Derner 3-0-3, Maria Dentlinger 7-1-3.
Set assists: NP 22 (Harmeyer 21, Christensen 1), CK 29 (Naberhaus 24, Derner 5).