CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On the 211th swing of Jess Schaben’s state tournament week, it finally happened.
The ball deflected off two would-be blockers and sped out of bounds. Suddenly, Harlan was celebrating a state volleyball championship the likes of which western Iowa has rarely seen.
Facing a Solon squad and more than 40 years of area frustration in the sport, the top-rated Cyclones captured the Class 4-A state title with a 25-16, 25-17, 18-25, 25-20 heart-pounder Friday afternoon at the U.S. Cellular Center. The victory left crying players piled on the court in celebration, three days after the program’s first-ever state win.
“It’s breathtaking; I get teary-eyed talking about it,” Harlan junior libero Asia Kloewer said. “Just to do it with the girls you love the most, it’s great. You dream it. Then when it’s here you don’t take it for granted, and we didn’t.”
Harlan’s title is the sixth from western Iowa since the tournament began with one class in 1970. Three other area schools have finished as state champs: Carroll (1972), Sioux City North (1982) and Sioux City Heelan (1999, 2006, 2007).
Schaben, Harlan’s 6-foot-2 junior outside hitter and an Iowa State commit, sent her side into a frenzy with her 31st kill of the day. Backing the Class 4-A all-tournament captain, Elle Kloewer added eight kills and a team-best 19 digs while Taylor Frederick blasted six kills. Setter Kenzie Swanson handed out 39 assists.
Frederick and Asia Kloewer joined Schaben on the all-tournament team.
“I think we were all on today,” Schaben said. “We could feel it.”
One day after taking 81 swings in a five-set rally against defending champ Charles City, Schaben attempted 73 while hitting at a .329 clip against No. 2 Solon (33-3). The effort left her with a little shoulder soreness and a date with an ice pack.
It was more than worth it.
“It’s the best feeling I think I’ve ever felt in my life. Oh my gosh,” Schaben said. “It means the world to us. We made history today.”
Harlan took the opening set for the first time in three state matches this week. After falling behind 9-5, the Cyclones (37-4) pieced together a 15-3 run to jump ahead 20-12. Three assist blocks from Frederick, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, and key aces by Asia Kloewer and Jessica DuVal highlighted the decisive stretch.
Solon, which also reached last year’s title match, started strong again in the second set with a 14-7 cushion before Harlan closed on a 18-3 surge. Taylor Wagner served 10 straight points, with Schaben accounting for six (four kills, two blocks).
“I’m just so happy for those kids, I really am,” Harlan coach Angie Spangenberg said. “They worked extremely hard and stayed in the moment. They did everything we asked them to do.”
The Spartans recovered, trailing for just one point in set three. They recorded five team blocks, with 5-10 senior Vik Meade doing much of the stuffing against Cyclone hitters while accumulating three of her 10 kills. Juniors Jordan Runge (16 kills) and Jordan Smith (12) led the way offensively overall.
Coach Peter Gustin, who landed a yellow card in the second set, said the third set was the only time of the match when his players were able to establish a good defensive position.
“I thought we were going to come back and win that match,” Gustin said. “A couple points here and there.”
A fifth set loomed with the schools knotted at 19 in the fourth. But Solon sent the next serve into the net, then hit its next two shots long. Following a Spartan kill, Schaben capped Harlan’s historic season with three consecutive finishes.
“It was a mix of all my emotions; I was happy, sad, I think everything. It was crazy,” Frederick said. “I was just ready to charge the court. It was a lot of fun.”
Schaben said she and her teammates weren’t playing just for each other. The Hawkeye Ten winners also wanted to represent their league and the title-starved western part of the state. Many had been getting texts and social-media support back home all week from players at schools like Treynor and Council Bluffs St. Albert.
Girls from 1-A state qualifier Stanton — who stayed in the same hotel as Harlan — promised Thursday night they would stay quiet so as not to disturb the sleeping Cyclones.
Harlan’s thick team chemistry should remain largely in place for one more season. Five-foot-8 outside hitter Tara Knudson is the only senior in a group otherwise entirely made up of juniors and sophomores. Sophomore Jordyn Moser (13 digs) also played Friday, while reserves Teresa Arkfeld and Megan Euchner round out the 11-girl varsity club.
The title was also a first for Spangenberg, who coached 18 seasons at Red Oak before coming to Harlan in 2011. She previously coached in championship matches in 1997 and 1998.
“You just feel so good to get here, but you want it more for your kids,” Spangenberg said. “You treat it like another tournament — you don’t want to leave after that first round. You got to be ready to go. These kids, I knew they had it in them.”
Harlan (37-4) .......................................... 25 25 18 25
Solon (33-3) .......................................... 16 17 25 20
H (kills-aces-blocks): Asia Kloewer 0-1-0, Jordyn Moser 0-0-0, Tara Knudson 2-0-1, Kenzie Swanson 1-0-0, Jess Schaben 31-3-5, Elle Kloewer 8-0-1, Jessica DuVal 0-2-0, Taylor Wagner 1-1-0, Taylor Frederick 6-0-3.
S: Maegan Bruene 2-0-3, Reed McCarty 0-0-0, Taylor Nearad 3-1-4, Rylee Smith 0-0-0, Katie Silberstein 0-0-0, Kendra Cave 6-0-2, Grace McCarty 0-0-0, Jordan Smith 12-1-2, Jordan Runge 16-0-1, Natalie Kosek 0-1-0, Vik Meade 10-0-6.
Set assists: H, Swanson 39, Moser 1, Schaben 2, Elle Kloewer 1, Wagner 3; S, Bruene 1, Nearad 40, Grace McCarty 1, Smith 1, Runge 2.