No doubt about it - Nevada is No. 1!

Story and photos by Joe Randleman
No doubt about it - Nevada is No. 1!

CEDAR RAPIDS - There was no denying Nevada its first state championship in volleyball as the No. 4 Cubs capped a dominant run at the state tournament with a sweep of No. 1 West Liberty in the Class 3A championship match Friday.

The Cubs powered through the first two sets. Looking like a team on a mission, they prevailed by a 25-21 score in the first set and then crushed the Comets by a 25-13 margin to take a commanding lead.

In the third set Nevada looked as if it was going to cruise to the championship after jumping out to a a 13-3 lead. But West Liberty dug down deep and gave Nevada a fight.

The Comets rallied within 18-14 and then trimmed a 23-18 deficit to 23-22. West Liberty eventually tied the score at 24-24 and the two teams went back and forth in an absolute dogfight.

The score was tied at 28-28 when Kati Cassabaum and Abby Stephenson combined for a block to put Nevada on top. Cassabaum - a UNI recruit - then fittingly slammed the door on the Comets, ripping a powerful kill down the middle in the final play of her Cub career to give Nevada a 30-28 win and attract a major dog pile of Nevada players near center court.

“I started crying right away,” Cassabaum said. “We’ve been working so hard for this. It’s just so good to finally reach it. It’s the best feeling ever.”

Nevada (33-9) was nearly flawless in its execution during the tournament - losing just one set in three matches. That was especially true on Friday against a West Liberty team that entered the tournament playing very strong volleyball as the top-rated team in 3A.

“The game plan is nothing without the execution,” Nevada head coach Will Baumann said. “Kudos to our kids who executed really at a high level.”

Nevada had 41 kills against 16 errors against a Comet team that was remarkably quick and tough defensively. The Cubs held West Liberty to a .113 kill-efficiency rate with 37 kills and 22 errors.

The Cubs were also tremendous serving the ball. They went 77 of 79 with five aces.

But the biggest advantage Nevada had was defensively at the net. West Liberty had the quickness edge, but with Cassabaum, Erin Francis and Abby Bremer up front, Nevada had a big advantage in size and it showed.

Nevada racked up 16 blocks - 12 assisted and four solo. West Liberty finished with less than half that total (7).

“They had some great blocking,” West Liberty head coach Ruben Galvan said. “It didn’t help that our serve receive was not the best today and you put those two together and it’s tough to overcome, especially when they have height.”

Balance was also a big part of Nevada’s success throughout the state tournament.

Against West Liberty, Cassabaum had 12 kills and six blocks; Francis tallied nine kills, 10 digs and two blocks and Bremer added four kills and blocks apiece. Stephenson put up three kills and two blocks along with a team-high 22 digs and Amaris Hornbuckle tacked on nine kills on 16 attacks with no errors.

“We were able to hold our focus and get our jobs done,” Francis said. “We did what we needed to do in order to win.”

For the state tournament, Francis had 38 kills, Cassabaum recorded 32, Stephenson finished with 26, Hornbuckle added 19 and Bremer chipped in 12. Francis, Cassabaum and Stephenson were each named to the all-tournament team in 3A.

Gillian Tupper concluded a great state tournament at setter for Nevada with 36 assists versus West Liberty. Chloe Davis put up 17 digs from the libero spot and Megan Anderson tacked on two from the back row.

Hornbuckle was the top Cub server versus the Comets as she went 17 of 17 with three aces. Stephenson was 20 of 22 with one ace and Tupper ended up 13 of 13 with one ace.

Nevada finished the season at 33-9. Baumann coached Tripoli to five state titles in 1A before he arrived at Nevada last year and enjoyed this one every bit as much as the others.

“I’ve worked these kids hard,” Baumann said. “We’ve made a lot of strides mentally, physically and emotionally the last two years. To see these kids get the payoff at the end is really cool.”

West Liberty finished 37-5.

Audra Bridenstine and Haddie Anderson each had eight kills, Cassedi Simon put up six kills and three blocks and Kyleigh Becker contributed six kills for the Comets against Nevada. Simon also handed out 27 assists and totaled nine digs and Maddie Simon chipped in 13 digs.