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At the beginning of the 2018 season, members of the Lake Mills volleyball squad said that 2018 season felt like they had let down those who had played before. For the first time since the 2002 season, the Bulldogs failed to capture a conference title, as they lost to Forest City by a 3-0 score on October 2, 2018.

The wall in the Lake Mills gym is decorated with the glory of years past, as purple banners recall the years that ended with a smiles, hugs and handshakes. The volleyball banner is nearly packed with conference titles.

Losing out to the arch-rival Indians in 2018 was a big blow to the Bulldogs, after 15 straight years of success. 

“We want it bad,” senior Megan Groe said at the beginning of this season. “Letting down that many people is hard on us. We’re trying to get it back and start the tradition up again.”

On Tuesday night, the Bulldogs earned a place atop the conference throne, beating Forest City in straight sets to win the Top of Iowa West title. 

“Last year, it wasn’t the only year that we haven’t won the conference, but it was the first time in a lot of years,” head coach Jim Boehmer said. “That long run was hard. I always try to teach the girls, when you have something of value, people are going to try to take it.”

The match was a revenge win for the Bulldogs, after losing two matches to the Indians in the 2018 season. Boehmer admits that he is a tough coach, but he tried to keep last season’s loss in perspective for his players. But after Tuesday night’s win over their arch-rival, Boehmer was all smiles. 

“You’ve got to keep working, and keep working. If your goals aren’t reached, that’s OK," he said. "You just have to do everything in your power to reach them. We would’ve been prepared if things didn’t turn out our way, but the girls and I, we had this circled for 365 days.”

One of the biggest differences between the 2018 and 2019 Bulldogs is the health of Groe. After losing her to an ACL tear in the summer of 2018, the Bulldogs relied on then-sophomore Kylie Greenfield to power the offense. Greenfield finished the season with a team-high 317 kills. 

Now, with a healthy Groe, and Greenfield leading the team with 256 kills, the Bulldogs offense has been taken to a new level. With standout setter Jessa Gastieger providing the assists, the Bulldogs are tough to stop. 

Vball Lake Mills vs. Forest City 4

Lake Mills senior Jessa Gasteiger was named to the Top of Iowa All-Conference first team and was conference co-player of the year with teammate Kylie Greenfield.

“We depend on those two, offensively,” Boehmer said. “ We’re still striving at times for all of our front row players to find a way. Jess is running our defense and our offense as our setter, and it’s hard to find three players who do what they do for our team. That’s pretty exceptional.”

For Greenfield, having the veteran Groe there to help share the load is a big boost. 

Vball Lake Mills vs. Forest City 1

Lake Mills junior Kylie Greenfield hits the ball over the net against Forest City Tuesday in Lake Mills.

“It’s a whole new level to our offense," she said. "Now we have two big hitters who can terminate the ball in all six rotations. It’s really nice having her back on the court.”

Groe currently has 198 kills on the year, and was nearly bursting with energy and excitement following the win over Forest City. After spending the 2018 season on the bench, acting as the team’s main cheerleader, Groe transferred her vocal and excited style of leadership onto the court this season. 

The sweep of the Indians was tight, as the Bulldogs won 28-26,  25-11 and then took the title with a 25-23 win in the final frame. Groe could be seen cheering and congratulating her teammates after every point. She is used to success, but finds the most joy in the tense, fraught sets that end joyously.

“It makes the game a lot more fun, in my opinion,” Groe said. “Games that we win by a lot aren’t any fun, because it’s just boring.”

Even with a conference title acting as a proverbial feather in their hat, the Bulldogs still have more to accomplish. Getting to 30 wins is the biggest goal, something the Bulldogs have done in each of the past dozen years. Right now, the team has 22 wins with nine matches remaining.

“If we can’t get it in the regular season, we’ve got to try to get it in the postseason,” Boehmer said. “Our goal now is to get better and try to get to 30 match wins, because that is another great string we want to keep.”

Beating Forest City is always sweet for the Bulldogs. But with a packed gym, and a return to the mountaintop on the line, Tuesday’s win was even sweeter. 

“It’s our tradition to do it. It feels great,” Greenfield said. “It feels like we renewed ourselves, and showed the public what we can do. We aren’t just all talk.”

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