CEDAR RAPIDS — If Osage was going to drop a match, it would be at the state semifinals.
The No. 5 Green Devils faced No. 1 Sioux Center, and with a two-set advantage, they played like they had nothing to lose. But after a close loss in the third set, the Green Devils would fall off the deep end in a heartbreaking loss 16-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-10, 15-8.
“I’m disappointed; obviously I wanted it for the kids so bad,” head coach Andie Olson said. “And they wanted it so bad and obviously they came out really hot in sets 1 and 2 and I was like, ‘Don’t take a nap. They’re going to fight, they have a lot of seniors, they’re not done either,' and that’s what happened and they just kept coming at us.’”
Senior Brenna Jacobs kicked off the first set with a surprise kill in the middle position. The Green Devils held a comfortable lead 11-5 behind forced errors on the Warriors’ side. Osage extended a 20-11 lead late in the set, closing it comfortably 25-16.
The second set saw more fight on the Warriors’ side. Sioux Center held an 18-14 advantage after tying the Green Devils six times and pulling away on four-point run. The Green Devils stayed calm, rallying back to tie the Warriors at 19-19 and 20-20. Junior Sydney Midlang would break the tie 21-20, and Jacobs would aid in the finishing touches 25-21.
It looked like the Green Devils had the match, until they dropped to a 13-7 deficit in the third. The Warriors were fighting to stay alive, maintaining a four-point lead for much of the set and teasing the Green Devils a few times to bring them within two. Senior Kelsey Havel poured on a five-kill performance, bringing the score within two at 19-17, but the Warriors continued to run away until they closed the set 25-21.
The fourth set looked nothing like the previous as the Green Devils dropped to an 11-point deficit at 14-3. Alexis Toering and Makennah Traver of Sioux Center continued to pile on the 10-foot-line slams to put Osage on the defensive, unable to come up with kills, sending it to a fifth at 25-10.
“We just stopped playing together,” Jacobs said. “We all wanted it so bad, we just played for ourselves and it was hard to get us back together and it was hard to get back together.”
The fifth set saw more of a fourth-set Osage, continuing to struggle with points. Warriors were picking up every swing and the Green Devils mostly capitalized on forced errors.
“We got in a rut and we couldn’t get out and no one was stepping up,” Olson said. “I think it’s hard having seniors on the floor and the younger kids don’t want to lose it for them, this could be it and it’s just a hard thing.”
By the time the scoreboard lit a 12-7 advantage, Osage had lost its tempo, dropping the match 15-8.
“Oh it just makes me hungry,” Jacobs said. “I need a state championship before I graduate and I’m not stopping until I get one.”
Havel finished the match with 16 kills, Jacobs and Midlang each had 14. Osage out-blocked Sioux Center eight to four, with five block assists by Midlang.
“Basketball season starts Monday,” Midlang said.
Right after St. Ansgar’s Class A quarterfinal victory over two-time defending state champion Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Collin Kramer’s older sister Tara took to Twitter to post a poll on the topic of which one of her brothers — Collin or Jared — was the better St. Ansgar quarterback.
Jared starred for the Saints at the position in 2014 while Collin is a first-year starter who has helped lead the team to a semifinal appearance today vs. Hudson at 10:05 a.m. in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
So, veteran coach Drew Clevenger, what’s the answer?
“In comparison with Jared and Collin, I think Collin is a little more of an explosive athlete right now and Jared maybe had the edge in at least throwing the ball, at least right now, but Collin is coming along in that way, too,” Clevenger said. “We were fortunate to have both of them in our program.
“I think they have fun with it. We’re just happy to have good, quality kids in our program.”
Comparisons aside, Collin is having himself a nice season in his first season under center for the Saints.
In St. Ansgar’s run-first offense, Kramer, a junior, has still managed to put up solid numbers in limited attempts. Through 10 games played (the Saints are 11-0 with a forfeit win over North Butler), Kramer is 20 for 50 with 415 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also averaging 20.8 per completion.
It’s his work in the running game that has leaped off the page for Clevenger.
Kramer has run the ball 49 times for 482 yards, which is good enough for 9.8 yards a pop, and has nine touchdowns.
“I always thought I was going to be a running back,” Kramer said. “And then I got fat in middle school and was changed to a fullback, and then I got tall in high school and was changed to a quarterback.”
The task for Kramer coming into the year was a tall order — how could he fill in for two-year starter Ben Boerjan? He’s done that and more, both on offense and on defense, where Clevenger said Kramer has really shined — he has five interceptions and 34½ tackles from his defensive back spot.
“We thought he was a good fit early in the year but just hadn’t had a lot of experience at the varsity level,” Clevenger said. “He’s gotten more physical as the year has gone on and has certainly done a better job tackling the latter half of the year. I think he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do defensively.”
To Kramer, he’s just happy to be in the position he’s in — helping lead the Saints back to the Dome.
“It feels awesome,” he said. “It’s a little bit nerve-wracking, but that happens, I guess.”
The next challenge is one that steps up considerably with Hudson.
The Pirates stand at 11-0 ahead of today’s matchup, and their offense has been hard to contain for opposing teams this season. Christian Seres has a team-best 1,661 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground while quarterback Jacob Murray has thrown for 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Pirates defeated Lynnville-Sully in the quarterfinals 30-0 to advance to today’s game.
“For us — I say this all the time — it comes down to we need to have a good game up front,” Clevenger said. “I think we’ve had many great offensive lines over the years and I would never say one offensive line’s the best because you can’t compare that, but from Week 1 to Week 11 I think this group has grown as much as anybody we’ve had.”
For the group of big guys, they're proud of the work they’ve helped create for St. Ansgar’s stable of backs. The most fun they have is picking apart defenses.
“Teams think that they can shut us down,” St. Ansgar senior Dylan Bissen said. “They’re defenses let up 200 or 100 yards a game, and then they see us and we just rack up the yards against them.
“That’s a big point of pride. We don’t even need to pass the ball. We can just run it all night.”
The Saints know if they play their game to perfection, they’ll be in it all the way until the end. It’s executing that plan that will be the difference.
This was Osage’s second time to make the state semifinals, but it won’t be its last.
The Green Devils lost to the No. 1 team in Class 3A, Sioux Center, and while moral victories aren’t what they had hoped for, it’s better than nothing.
Sioux Center boasted a squad of seven seniors, including top-performing middle blockers Alexis Toering and Alyssa Mulder. Toering finished the day with 17 kills and Mulder 14. Outside hitter Camryn Cleveringa also boasted a double-double performance with 10 kills and 10 digs.
But for a six-foot middle blocker, Toering finished the day with only one total block and Mulder would come up with the rest with three block assists.
After the state quarterfinals on Wednesday, Osage head coach Andie Olson said, “We are a power team, we don’t tip, we swing.”
And that’s exactly what the Green Devils did, tallying up 59 total kills with three performers in the double-digits. They train to hit around the block and the numbers show it. Seniors Kelsey Havel and Brenna Jacobs had 16 and 14 kills respectively, junior Sydney Midlang finished with 14 and freshman Dani Johnson came close with nine kills.
The Warriors and Green Devils were similar in that sense – both teams liked to swing, so free balls and tips were giveaways.
In the end, it was the forced errors that put the Warriors on top.
Osage will lose starting seniors Jacobs, Havel and senior defensive specialist Sophie Muller, but the rest will return with state-semifinal experience under their belts, which will be instrumental in their volleyball IQ.
Junior setter Rylie Olson finished with 49 assists in the final match and will return for her fourth season on varsity and so will Midlang. Junior Kourtney Chambers returns for her third season as starting libero and freshmen Paige Kisley and Johnson will return to the front line.
Johnson played an entire season at middle blocker, a position she wasn’t familiar with in the beginning. Johnson finished the final match with nine kills and two block assists, six of those kills coming from the final three sets, when the Green Devils struggled to convert.
Johnson’s kills came at critical times in each set, bringing the Green Devils within one at 15-16 in the third and leading a potential late comeback 18-20. In the fourth, Johnson would break an eight-point run by the warriors with a kill to make it 5-16. In the fifth, she swung to keep the Green Devils in contention 7-10.
“Middle is not her position; she’s a true outside and she’s playing middle because that’s what we need her to do,” Coach Olson said. “And the way she’s developed this season has just been amazing and I think the sky’s honestly the limit for that kid and she’s going to get better and better.”
As a freshman, Johnson showed maturity beyond her years on the big stage. But so did Kisley. Kisley racked up three kills and four digs in the final match, but that doesn’t show much. Kisley’s power is the kind that can be heard, and her sharp-angle hitting is hard to block.
As an outside hitter, Kisley also sets the block when Midlang arrives and the two of them put up a strong one. If Kisley doesn’t get the touch, Midlang is in position.
Add that all together and Osage returns two middle blockers, a setter, libero and outside hitter. With most of the specialty positions in place, Osage is just reloading.
And while it’s too soon to think about next year, it’s not looking too shabby.
MASON CITY — When it comes to NA3HL hockey rivalries, it’s a good bet there’s none bigger than the one North Iowa and Granite City have developed over the years.
From playing in the same division for four years to meeting in the postseason seemingly every year, this rivalry is no joke. This weekend, the rivalry will be renewed as the Bulls host the Lumberjacks on Friday and Saturday night inside the North Iowa Ice Arena.
“I think when you look at the historical winners of the Silver Cup, it’s Granite City or North Iowa,” North Iowa coach Todd Sanden said. “With that type of end-of-the-season meetings going on, it certainly leads to a bigger rivalry.”
The rivalry started when the Bulls came into the league in 2011 and has only grown since.
Granite City knocked North Iowa out that year in the West Division playoffs, and went on to start an incredible string of postseasons in which the teams have dominated.
Since the 2011-12 season, North Iowa and Granite City have won the Silver Cup (now the Fraser Cup) every year. The Bulls have three to their name while the Lumberjacks have three as well with the most recent coming this past April.
It’s the players back from the team which have Sanden’s attention.
“They have plenty of veteran and returning players this year,” the coach said. “I think we have them aged out to be the second or third oldest team in the league, and you start by looking at the kids who have won a championship.”
Granite City enters the weekend with a 9-5 record playing in the always-tough West Division. The Bulls on the other hand have yet to drop a game in regulation as they come in at 12-0-1-1 and on a six-game winning streak.
Ryan Pearson and Owen Sikich are tied for the team lead for the Jacks with seven goals apiece while Braden Altena has dished out 14 assists. In goal, Granite City has split time between two guys. Ridge Gerads has a goal-against average of 1.60 while David Mulligan is at 2.17.
With a packed house expected, the Bulls know how important getting out and setting the tone early will be.
“I think the first 10 minutes of the first game is very important, and then keeping the pace,” Sanden said. “Pushing the pace and then setting a tone and maintaining it I think is the biggest factor. And then execution.”