A little change in strategy and better defensive play resulted in solid improvement by the Colo-NESCO volleyball team in 2018.

The Royals went 9-17 overall and 3-3 in the Iowa Star Conference South Division this fall. That was up from last year’s 5-16 record, despite losing both of their setters and three of their top four leaders in kills from a year ago.

“Overall, our season was a very positive season,” Colo-NESCO head volleyball coach Jessica Owens said. “We saw so much growth from start to finish and were able to really come together as a team.”

Colo-NESCO went through some ups and downs, but played its best at the end of the season.

The season opened with losses to Madrid and South Hamilton at the Madrid Invitational. At the Meskwaki Invitational, the Royals went 2-3 with victories over Ankeny Christian Academy and Meskwaki and losses to Belle Plaine, Denver and Vinton-Shellsburg.

On Aug. 28, Colo-NESCO swept Martensdale St. Marys. The Royals lost to AGWSR, Dunkerton and Class 1A powerhouse North Tama in their next three matches, then scored their first ISC triumph with a sweep over GMG.

The Gladbrook-Reinbeck Invitational on Sept. 15 was a tough outing for the Royals. They went 0-5 with losses to Gladbrook-Reinbeck, GMG, AGWSR, North Butler and East Buchanan.

Colo-NESCO snapped out of its funk on Sept. 18 with a sweep over Valley Lutheran. The Royals fell in four sets to Collins-Maxwell a week later, then on Sept. 27, turned in one of their best outings of the season in a losing effort, dropping a five-set battle with Baxter at home.

The strong showing against Baxter provided Colo-NESCO with great momentum to close out the regular season. The Royals defeated Meskwaki in five sets on Oct. 2, lost to South Hardin in four sets on Oct. 11 and went 3-0 at the ISC tournament on Oct. 13.

At the ISC tournament in Meskwaki, the Royals took down Waterloo Christian, Dunkerton and Clarksville, all in straight sets, to win the Silver Bracket.

“Our biggest highlight as a team was winning the Silver Bracket of the Meskwaki Conference tourney,” Owens said.

Colo-NESCO wasn’t able to keep its hot streak going in the postseason. The Royals were defeated by Collins-Maxwell in three sets during the 1A regional first round to end the season.

As a team, Colo-NESCO finished with 445 kills and 244 errors in 1,361 attacks on offense. The Royals tallied a kill-efficiency rate of .148 with 6.10 kills per set, easily topping last year’s totals of .017 and 4.70 respectively.

“Our biggest strength this season was changing our rotation from a 6-2 to a 5-1,” Owens said. “This allowed us to have a little more consistency with our sets, which in turn allowed us to be a better hitting team.”

Defensively, Colo-NESCO totaled 524 digs and 48 blocks, averaging 7.18 and .66 per set respectively.

“Our biggest growth this year would be being able to read the other side and play defense,” Owens said. “Our athletes were much better at being ready to play their game and work the court a bit.”

Colo-NESCO served at an 84.2-percent clip during the season. The Royals compiled 160 aces at 2.19 per set.

Gracie Kettwig, Maggie Barten and Rylee Purvis led Colo-NESCO in kills this season with 107, 89 and 81 respectively. Kettwig averaged 1.47, Barten 1.22 and Purvis 1.21 per set, and they tallied respective kill-efficiency rates of .199, .131 and .198.

Kettwig also racked up a team-high 53 aces and 19 blocks. Barten had 16 digs and nine blocks.

Purvis was one of the top all-around players on the team. She recorded 126 digs and 37 aces, serving at a 91.3-percent rate.

Emmy Hostetler turned in 60 kills with a .139 efficiency rate from the right side. She also came up with 16 blocks and 11 aces on the season.

Lindsey Riese delivered 46 kills and 47 digs for the Royals in her senior year. She also served 31 aces.

Megan Carlson took over at setter and handed out 347 assists at 4.75 per set her junior year. Carlson also hammered down 48 kills with an excellent .477 efficiency rate, and produced 26 digs and nine aces.

Senior libero Emma Sarver held down the back row for the Royals with 207 digs at 2.84 per set. Sarver also was successful on 87.5 percent of her serves, with eight aces.

Junior Lauryn Hill stepped up with 72 digs in the back row. Hill also finished with 11 kills and five blocks.

Sophomore McKenzie Niemeyer chipped in 13 digs, two kills and one ace. Junior Morgan Sluis added five digs, sophomore Morgan Hulsizer one dig and one ace and sophomore Ayvarie Bappe one assist.

Owens has stepped down as head coach, but she feels an experienced Royal team will keep the program heading in the right direction. Barten, Riese and Sarver will be Colo-NESCO’s only losses to graduation, leaving the Royals with most of its attack returning.

“Next season will continue to be a growing season,” Owens said. “We will have seven seniors next year who will have put in a lot of work and be ready to perform! They all work really well together and have a good team chemistry.”