Extra work in the gym and the ability to seamlessly transition to a new coach made the 2019 volleyball season a memorable one for Nevada.
The Cubs went 33-10, repeated as Heart of Iowa Conference champions with a perfect 7-0 conference mark and made it to state for the first time since 2016.
“It was my first season as head coach and it was the first season for my assistant coaches to coach,” Nevada head coach Jonny Sneiderman said. “We broke school records, won three regular-season tournaments, won the conference title without dropping a single set all conference season, went 11-0 at home and returned the program to state. To start off my career at Nevada in this fashion was exciting. The girls are already counting down until team camp next summer.”
Nevada opened the season facing all Class 5A and 4A teams at the Ankeny Centennial Invitational. The Cubs defeated Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Urbandale and lost to Ankeny Centennial, Lewis Central and Waukee twice.
“I would say starting off the season competitive at the Ankeny Centennial tournament was huge,” Sneiderman said. “To have pushed every team into a decisive set and come close to winning many of the matches was encouraging.”
The next week at the Tiger Invitational in Adel the Cubs went 4-1 with wins over Atlantic, Gilbert, Woodward-Granger and Adel-Desoto-Minburn and a loss to Norwalk. Nevada followed that up with an impressive sweep over a strong Roland-Story team to start Heart of Iowa Conference play.
The Cubs traveled to Williamsburg Sept. 14 and went 4-0 with sweeps over Centerville, Marquette Catholic and Williamsburg and a big victory over a West Liberty team rated in the top five in 3A.
“Beating West Liberty when they were No. 3 and we were unranked was really exciting,” Sneiderman said. “It was proof to the girls that even though they weren’t ranked, that they were a state tournament calibur team.”
They added another HOIC sweep over Saydel Sept 19, but went through their toughest stretch of the season two days later by finishing 2-3 at the Bluejay Invitational in Bondurant.
Nevada defeated Atlantic and Pella Christian at Bondurant, but fell to Bondurant-Farrar, Dallas Center-Grimes and Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
That tournament served as a turning point for the Cubs. They went on to win 18 of 19 matches following Bondurant (19 of 20 overall) to reach the state tournament.
Nevada swept HOIC foe South Hamilton on Sept. 26 and two days later won the Nevada Invitational with a perfect 5-0 record. The Cubs avenged earlier losses to powerful 4A programs in DC-G and Norwalk.
“Winning our home tournament after avenging losses versus Norwalk and DCG was another highlight,” Sneiderman said. “Both of those teams are incredibly physical and well-coached, so to get back-to-back wins against them was impressive.”
The Cubs swept a North Polk team that went on to win 30 games on Sept. 30. The next week they traveled to Waverly and went 4-1, including splitting two matches with a Waverly-Shell Rock team rated in the top five of 4A.
Nevada easily took out Prairie City-Monroe and Greene County in their next two matches to set up a showdown with a Gilbert team rated 12th in 4A for all the marbles in the HOIC. The Cubs completely dominated the Tigers on their home court, winning by scores of 25-19, 25-11 and 25-10 to repeat as conference champions in impressive fashion.
“Winning conference at Gilbert the way we did was a highlight of course,” Sneiderman said. “We had an aggressive game plan going into that match and we forced Gilbert out of their comfort zone.”
The Cubs swept Ames two days later to wrap up the regular season. They ended up ranked 10th in 3A.
Nevada opened 3A regional play with convincing sweeps over PCM and North Polk to reach the regional finals. They faced off against No. 8 Tipton and completely outclassed the Tigers, winning in four sets to return to state for the first time in three years.
“This was very validating,” Sneiderman said. “Going into the job I knew there were expectations for the program and myself. I come from collegiate coaching and should know what I am doing. There was a ton of pressure for me to produce results. I know there aren’t very many head coaches that have taken a team to state their first year as head coach. My husband is one of the few that has done the same thing while he coached at Tripoli. Achieving this has hopefully created some buy-in to the program from our future athletes and community.”
In the 3A state quarterfinals against third-seeded Red Oak the Cubs started off great in the first set. But Red Oak rallied for a 26-24 victory then took the next two sets, 25-15 and 25-19 to end the Cubs’ season.
Sneiderman said the weight-training program over the summer and during the season made the team much stronger this season. The Cubs also improved their ball control, in-game strategy and ability to take advantage of other team’s weaknesses.
“Much of the conference had a negative hitting percentage against us and that’s not because they had off nights, it’s because we forced them out of their comfort zone through game strategy,” Sneiderman said. “I am excited to continue to build upon what we’ve started in these areas.”
The Cubs also had tremendous depth.
Seniors Kacie Rewerts and Morgan Tupper were the clear leaders, but juniors Sydney Mosinski, Hannah Thomsen, Kaitlyn Kingsbury, Aubrey Gibson and Ellie Gray all had big seasons. The Cubs also received valuable contributions from Shelbi Hazlitt, Lily Goos, Maddie Dunham and Erin Coogler.
“The culture of our program is something I am proud of and it takes each person involved to create it,” Sneiderman said. “Many kids led this team at different points of the season, whether it was in a match, in practice, in the weight room or in a team activity we always had different kids stepping up. This allowed each athlete to shine in their role and took pressure off of those that would carried more weight at times. Our bench was the hero most weeks because of how they pushed everyone in practice.”
Rewerts set the school record for kills in a season with 477 and she finished second all time at Nevada with 1,223. She averaged 4.50 kills per set with an outstanding 0.317 efficiency rate.
Rewerts was a great all-around player. She had a team-high 304 digs at 2.87 per set, served at a 94.2-percent clip with 35 aces and tallied 38 blocks.
Tupper ranked fourth in 3A for assists and averaged 9.21 per set. She also had 208 digs, 79 kills, 41 blocks and 33 aces.
“These seniors were critical to what we accomplished this year,” Sneiderman said. “Their leadership and encouragement to their teammates made my job easier. They have left an incredible mark on this program and will be remembered for a long time. I will always wish I had gotten more time with them but the friendships that have been created will last well beyond this season.”
Mosinski joined the senior duo as a first-team all-HOIC pick this season. She recorded 233 kills at 2.79 per set with a 0.224 efficiency rate and led Nevada in blocks with 94 at 0.90 per set.
Hazlitt and Goos were the other middle hitters on the team. Hazlitt recorded 30 kills and 15 blocks in 37 sets and Goos 36 kills and 39 blocks in 78 sets.
“My three middles this season had a dog fight every day for playing time,” Sneiderman said. “Sydney, Shelbi and Lily developed in their technical skill so much that every day our middle starting positions were up for grabs.”
Thomsen made the all-HOIC second team after recording 219 kills at 2.09 per set with a 0.223 efficiency rate and adding 145 digs, 36 aces and 29 blocks at right-side hitter.
“Hannah Thomsen was the other captain on this team and her role was ever changing it seemed,” Sneiderman said. “She had goals of playing more than she did and she was asked to score different ways many nights. It will be special having her for another season.”
Kingsbury finished with 75 kills, 54 digs and 13 blocks.
In the back row Gray made the all-HOIC second team after recording 291 digs at 2.69 per set from the libero. She also went an incredible 422 of 432 serving (97.7 percent) with 40 aces, coming one missed serve away from the school record for serving accuracy.
Gibson led Nevada in aces with 48 and served at 94.8-percent accuracy. She also compiled 61 digs.
Coogler contributed 142 digs at 1.41 per set.
“Defensively, we looked way different than last year,” Sneiderman said. “Erin spent time in the libero jersey as well as Aubrey when Ellie was not getting the job done. That positional competition pushed them to focus on growth in practices and get better as a collective whole.
Dunham compiled 104 digs and 24 kills and she also picked up 18 aces.
Junior Ashlynn Sporrer chipped in 16 kills and sophomore Mayzi Weig and junior Madison McGaffin six apiece. Junior Bridget Patterson tackedon seven digs.
It won’t be easy to replace Rewerts and Tupper next season. But Sneiderman and the returning players have laid down a strong enough foundation that another conference title and return to state are very possible for 2020.
“We will continue to grow our culture, physical strength and volleyball skill,” Sneiderman said. There is an extremely athletic incoming freshman class next year that will be pushing our returners starting day one. This coaching staff has committed to big things for quite a while, I am excited for their growth as well.”