COUNCIL BLUFFS — This is third-year Iowa Western volleyball coach Alicia Williams’ first season with a roster entirely filled with her recruits.
Two days after being anointed the No. 1 junior college team in the land – and with school president Dr. Dan Kinney and athletic director Brenda Hampton in attendance -- the Reivers lost their first two sets of the season to a Jefferson ( Mo.) College team that finished 19-13 last year.
“I was just looking up at Dr. Kinney and I was like, ‘Was he wise in making that decision, he and Brenda?’’’ Williams said with a smile.
By the end of the day, the panic button remained untouched. Iowa Western rallied past Jefferson 18-25, 20-25, 25-13, 26-24, 15-10, and then fought past No. 9 Western Nebraska 25-19, 14-25, 26-24, 25-15 to complete day one of the two-day Reiver Classic Friday at Kanesville Arena.
“You can’t simulate crunch-time scenarios as well as you can in crunch time,’’ Williams said. “And we had plenty of crunch-time opportunities today. So it was good to see that our girls worked through that.’’
In the opener, Iowa Western was in danger of losing in four, trailing two sets to one and by scores of 18-13 and 22-18 in the fourth. At 24-all, Taylor Liesemeyer killed an overpass for the Reivers, and the Vikings followed with an error to send it to a fifth set.
Freshman Iva Deak had two kills and an ace during a 5-0 Reiver run that put the hosts up 8-3 before they closed out the match. Sophomore Gabriella Strazzeri turned in a terrific all-around effort with 15 kills, 14 digs and three aces.
“It showed the character of our team this year,’’ Williams said. “I just think we have mentally tough girls.’’
In the nightcap, Western Nebraska threatened to take a 2-1 lead in sets when it led 24-22 in the third. Olivia Wolodkewitsch followed a Strazzeri kill with an ace to tie it, and a pair of Cougar errors gave the Reivers the set. Iowa Western raced to a 9-2 lead in the fourth and quickly closed it out.
Strazzeri led the Reivers in match two with 17 kills, while Lauren Salerno and Deak added 10 each. Freshman setter Larissa Focosi of Sao Paulo, Brazil, had 90 assists on the day.
“I thought the team was getting better as the matches went along,’’ she said. “The first game we were nervous.’’
Salerno, a 6-foot-1 freshman out of Omaha Westside, is making a smooth transition from the middle to the outside.
“She’s been an outside hitter for two weeks,’’ Williams said. “That kid surprised the heck out of me.’’
Jefferson ............................. 25 25 13 24 10
Iowa Western ...................... 18 20 25 26 15
Kills-aces-blocks: IW: Gabriella Strazzeri 15-3-1, Iva Deak 11-0-1.5, Maci Coffey 10-0-1.5, Lauren Salerno 9-0-.5, Taylor Liesemeyer 6-2-1.5, Larissa Focosi 3-1-.5, Kayli Grant 1-0-0, Maile Spenser 1-0-0, Olivia Wolodkewitsch 0-0-0.
Set assists: Focosi 43, Spenser 5, Strazzeri 1, Deak 1, Wolodkewitsch 1. Digs: Spenser 21, Strazzeri 14, Focosi 12, Salerno 12, Wolodkewitsch 8, Liesemeyer 5, Coffey 5, Deak 1.
Western Nebraska ....................................... 19 25 24 15
Iowa Western (2-0) ..................................... 25 14 26 25
Kills-aces-blocks: IW: Strazzeri 17-0-2, Salerno 10-0-.5, Deak 10-0-.5, Liesemeyer 6-0-1, Coffey 4-0-2, Focosi 2-0-1, Wolodkewitsch 0-1-0, Hamblin 0-0-0, Spenser 0-2-0.
Set assists: Focosi 47.