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Osage looks for improvement against tough opponents

On weekends, Osage plays more volleyball.

The Green Devils went 8-0 without dropping a single set to clinch the TIC East for the third year in a row on Tuesday.

But that’s not when they play their toughest competition. Overall, the Green Devils hold a 20-8 record, dropping matches to top-teams like No. 1 in Class 2A Dike-New Hartford, No. 1 in Class 5A Cedar Falls, No. 5 in Class 4A Waverly-Shell Rock, No. 5 in Class 3A Gilbert and No. 3 in Class 2A Grundy Center. But it’s those losses that allow growth.

Photos: Mason City Volleyball Tournament

At Mason City on Saturday, the Green Devils went to work with dominate wins over Webster City, Mason City, Central Springs and Humboldt. Their only loss would be a 2-0 sweep by Waverly-Shell Rock in the championship game, capping off a 5-1 performance on the day.

“Obviously leaving any tournament 5-1 is a nice day,” head coach Andie Olson said. “I don’t think that we played to our potential against Waverly, which is what we were waiting for. And we’ve been talking about this since we lost to them in 3 at our tournament way back in September about getting another shot at them.”

At No. 6 in Class 3A, Osage had nothing to lose and more to gain in a rematch with Waverly-Shell Rock.

But the first set started off messy. The Green Devils struggled with serve-receive, allowing the Go-Hawks to go on a four-point run to extend a 16-9 deficit. Osage would rally back three points, but struggled once again to put the first ball up, trailing the Go-Hawks 20-12. Despite a pair of kills by seniors Kelsey Havel and Brenna Jacobs, the Green Devils were unable to come back and lost the first set 25-17.

“I feel like being the underdogs it’s hard to switch into that mindset,” junior setter Rylie Olson said. “Because we’re so used to winning in three, so having to flip that switch and play well the whole time is hard to transition into.”

The score would be the same in the second set, 25-17, but it would come with more extended rallies. Havel was fighting for her 1,000-dig mark on the back row, while also slamming three kills on the front. Jacobs would utilize her signature line-kill move off of shoot-sets from junior Rylie Olson to throw off the Go-Hawks’ defense.

Freshman Dani Johnson found holes in the blocks up front, slamming four kills in and around the wall of hands. Junior Sydney Midlang added to her team-high of 20 blocks on the day, learning the arms of her opponents. Junior Kourtney Chambers manned the back line, racking up nine digs to add to her total of 25.

“We’ve done a lot of work with the block hits the last two weeks and trying to really train not only our setter, but our middles, to have one-on-ones, they need to learn to go around it and put the ball away in a one-on-one situation,” Coach Olson said. “I think the block hits are huge because it’s coming back at you right away and you can’t just stand and watch you have to be down and ready. In our last two weeks, the defense has improved a lot.”

The teams tied seven times until the Go-Hawks went on a four-point run at 15-16 for a 20-15 lead. The Green Devils rallied two more points, but were unable to come back.

“Our focus is something we need to work on,” Olson said. “We’re not focused all the time, we’re focused in spurts, but we just need to maintain that intensity from point one to point 25.”

Havel finished the day with a team-high 36 kills, Johnson was next with 20 kills and Jacobs had 17. Olson finished the day with a double-double performance of 90 assists and 21 digs.

“I think being checked in every ball every match is key because we get in cruise control mode and we kind of tend to play to what the competition is doing instead of setting the tempo the way we want to play,” Coach Olson said. “So just continuing to be that team all the time and not just doing it when we feel like it is where we need to improve.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Osage's Sydney Midlang and Brenna Jacobs leap to make a block at the net against Webster City Saturday at the Mason City varsity tournament.

Iowa takes care of Illinois for first Big Ten win

IOWA CITY – Kirk Ferentz spent Saturday searching for something to provide his Iowa football team with “a little juice."

The Hawkeyes successfully executed an onside kick in the first quarter and a fake punt in the second but they but didn’t find the jolt they needed to get past upset-minded Illinois until Brandon Snyder returned an interception 89 yards for a third-quarter touchdown which sent Iowa on its way to a 45-16 win at Kinnick Stadium.

Returning to action six months to the week after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament during spring practices, the Hawkeyes’ junior free safety stepped in front of Jeff George Jr. pass at the 11-yard line and sprinted to the first pick-six of his career.

“I’ve thought about doing something like that every day since I’ve been out," Snyder said. “I’ve envisioned myself making plays like that once I got back on the field. If you don’t envision it, it will never happen."

Snyder’s score with 6 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter extended a hard-earned 17-13 halftime lead for an Iowa team which found itself in a first-half fight with the Fighting Illini.

Illinois found its own spark in sophomore quarterback Jeff George Jr.

Joining a lineup that included seven true freshmen, George orchestrated an offense which piled up 446 yards, picking up 200 yards on the ground to complement the 22-of-45 passing performance of George in his 2017 starting debut.

He made some mistakes – throwing three interceptions including the one Snyder returned for a score – but coach Lovie Smith sensed some growth in his football team.

“When you get the same results at the end, it’s tough. It’s all about who wins and who loses and Iowa did score more points than we did," Smith said.

“But, I don’t think we played as hard as we needed to the past few weeks and I’m not saying that today. I thought our guys battled. We had some moments, but we just weren’t consistent enough."

The Fighting Illini did help themselves to a 13-10 lead late by scoring on consecutive possessions late in the second quarter.

Illinois tied the game on a two-yard touchdown run by Ra’Von Bonner with 6:40 to go in the half and following an interception by Bennett Williams, used a 24-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin just under four minutes later to erase the remnants of a 10-3 deficit.

Iowa, unable to score after a successful onside kick by Miguel Recinos that followed a first-quarter touchdown reception by Nick Easley, capitalized on its next attempt at trickery.

Facing a fourth-and-five situation from the Illinois 41-yard line, the Hawkeyes lined up to punt but Amani Hooker took the snap 18 yards for a first down and extended a 13-play drive which ended five players later with Akrum Wadley catching a two-yard touchdown pass with :08 left in the half.

“We felt like we needed a little something to get us going and Amani did a great job on that," Ferentz said. “The blocking up front was good and most importantly, we were able to finish after that."

Smith labeled it a “good call, a critical call," but added, “we still had opportunities after that."

The Hawkeyes, like the Illini looking to end a two-game losing streak, had seized a little momentum.

“It was good to have the ball in my hands and have the chance to make a play," Hooker said. “It kept the drive alive and gave us a chance to take the lead at halftime."

Iowa needed more, going three and out on its first two possessions of the third quarter.

George had the Fighting Illini on the move, connecting with Malik Turner for a 27-yard gain to the Iowa 32-yard line and using nine of Mike Epstein’s team-leading 83 rushing yards to move the ball to the Hawkeyes’ 22-yard line for a first down.

Then Snyder took over.

“It’s been a tough few months. I did what I could to help the other guys, but I’d think about it every time I didn’t get a chance to participate in the swarm," he said, referring to the Hawkeyes’ traditional team entry to the field.

“I’d tear up a bit, thinking about not being out there, but it was motivation, too. I did everything I could to get back out there as quick as I could and the medical staff did everything they could to make it happen."

Snyder finished with three tackles and broke up two passes in addition to the one he intercepted to give Iowa a 24-13 lead that came as the Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) outscored the Illini 35-3 after falling behind 13-10 late in the first half.

McLaughlin’s third field goal, a 40-yard kick, inched Illinois (2-4, 0-2) within 24-16 after three quarters but the Hawkeyes followed Snyder’s pick six by scoring on three of their final four possessions to break the game open.

During the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Matt VandeBerg scored on a 39-yard pass from Nate Stanley, part of a 17-of-32 performance covering 247 yards and including three touchdowns.

Wadley, who led Iowa with 115 rushing yards on 23 carries, scored on an 18-yard carry and freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin caught a late three-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wiegers following a Geno Stone interception

“We didn’t get off to the kind of start we wanted, but it was the kind of second half we needed," Stanley said. “We put some things together, had some decent drives. It was what we hoped to have heading into the bye week."