By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
As the volleyball fell to the court, Alyssa Wing did the same. There was no mistaking the feeling.
She dropped to her knees in emotional agony.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Wing, the Clinton outside hitter who became the school’s all-time leader in kills in her senior season. “I don’t even know what’s going through my mind.”
Several feet away, Erin Wenzel sprawled on the court where she had tried to reach the ball, her hands covering her eyes. A few feet beyond her, on the other side of the net in stark contrast, Bettendorf players mobbed each other in celebration.
After five emotionally and physically draining games, the seventh-ranked Bulldogs (20-11) had prevailed 25-20, 25-18, 23-25, 22-25, 15-11. They were headed to the Class 5A state tournament; the sixth-ranked River Queens (21-10) weren’t.
“I can look back and say we did our best,” Clinton senior middle Marquel Schultheis said. “There was not a ball that wasn’t dove after. You could tell the heart of both teams. It came out in the end that the team that made fewer errors won.”
That didn’t lessen the pain.
“We didn’t want to let them have it again,” said senior Devin Matheny, referring to a five-set loss to Bettendorf in last year’s regional semifinal. “It was our turn.
“It’s really tough. It’s my last game, my last season, my last year.”
Bettendorf earned its trip to the state meet by pulling out a hard-fought fifth game that saw players diving all over the court to keep the ball in play.
“I just think we did not come this far to lose in Game 5,” Bettendorf junior Anna Willey said.
Especially since Clinton had beaten Bettendorf in a five-set match in conference play.
“I feel that helped us,” Willey said. “It gave us a ton of motivation to beat them when it counts the most.”
The fifth set swayed back and forth, with Clinton holding leads at 1-0, 4-3 and 5-4 and Bettendorf going ahead at 2-1, 3-2, 6-5, 7-6, 8-7 and 9-8. The Bulldogs finally went ahead to stay at 10-9 on a kill by Willey from the left side.
“We needed to squeeze a couple of points out of the middle of the fifth game,” Clinton coach Mark Massey said.
Shelby Brandt delivered Bettendorf’s final ace of the night on the following serve to make it 11-9. A kill by Wing pulled Clinton within 11-10, and the teams traded the next two points before Bettendorf scored the final three, finishing it with a push over the net that fell to the floor just out of Clinton’s reach.
It gave the Bulldogs a first-round match against third-ranked Dubuque Hempstead on Wednesday.
“It’s been a goal since the beginning of the season,” Bettendorf’s Anna Willey said. “We haven’t gone since 2008.”
Willey, a junior, played a key role in the win. She finished with 12 kills, 26 assists, two aces, seven blocks and 14 digs. But more important, she was an integral part of Bettendorf’s focus to make things difficult for Wing. Often, the Bulldogs served and hit to the Nevada-Las Vegas recruit to keep her from getting in the offensive flow. When Wing had the opportunity to get to the net, Bettendorf had its block set up for her.
“We would serve to her a lot to take her out of her process to swing, and I’d try to line up with her to take away the line or her angle,” Willey said. “She’s a great player.”
Even great players can get frustrated, though, and Wing said it was a frustrating start for her.
“Apparently, I’m a threat,” she said. “They had a really good block on me. I’m not used to getting blocked that much. Finally, I found a way in Game 3 to get around it.”
The Bulldogs never trailed in the first game, scoring the first three points with freshman Megan Sharkey serving. The second point came on the first of 17 ace serves for Bettendorf.
Wing’s first kill of the game cut the gap to 5-4, but she followed with a serve into the net that started a four-point run for the Bulldogs. Danielle Pennington added one of her 19 kills for the next point, an ace by Willey made it 8-5 and a block finished the run.
Clinton eventually pulled within 17-16 on a kill by Wenzel, who finished with 16, but Caitlin Wernentin, who led all players with 26 kills, got one to start a three-point run that helped finish off the victory.
The River Queens showed a spark to start Game 2, with Wenzel serving the three straight points, the last an ace. But Bettendorf scored seven of the next nine points. Clinton pulled even at 8-8 on a hitting error by Wernentin, but she smacked a kill off the Clinton block on the next point to give Bettendorf a lead it didn’t lose.
On the verge of a three-game sweep, the River Queens dug deep and started a comeback in Game 3.
“I think we realized if we lose the next game, we’re done for good,” Wing said. “We didn’t want to let the fans down.”
A large Clinton contingent certainly supplied energy to the team.
“They definitely helped in games 3 and 4,” Wing said. “That’s the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard. They pumped us up. They’re an amazing fan group.”
Massey also gave his hitters some advice heading into the game.
“I told Alyssa and Erin that this isn’t chess, don’t go out and out-think themselves, play your game,” he said.
The comeback began after Bettendorf scored the first two points. But Bettendorf committed errors on the next three points, then Monique Harris scored off a pass from Wing for a 4-2 lead. Moments later, Harris capped a five-point run with three consecutive ace serves to put Clinton ahead 9-4.
The Queens maintained a comfortable lead until late, when a four-point run pulled the Bulldogs within 20-18. A kill by Wenzel ended the surge, and she added two more after Bettendorf closed within a point, and Clinton held on.
Clinton kept the momentum going in the fourth game that featured four Clinton leads and four ties until Bettendorf took its first lead at 12-11 on a back-row kill by Wernentin that capped a four-point run.
The Queens finally took control with a six-point run, going ahead 15-14 on a kill by Wenzel and upping the lead to 18-14 on an ace serve by Wing. Bettendorf was called for an illegal alignment on that ball, though, which started a long discussion between the officials and Bettendorf coach Diane Lichtenberg to sort out the matter. After about 10 minutes the Queens were awarded a penalty point, and even though they went on to win the game, they might have lost some of their momentum during the break.
“We had the momentum, serving, up four points,” Wing said. “All of a sudden we stop for 10 minutes. It was frustrating, just let us play.”
But she said she didn’t think that carried over to the fifth game. Neither did Willey.
“They totally had momentum going,” she said. “We wanted it a lot. We didn’t give up. We fought through every ball.”
And in the end, that was the difference.
Kills — Clinton 62 (Alyssa Wing 24, Erin Wenzel 16, Elle Tubbs 8, Marquel Schultheis 7, Monique Harris 6); Bettendorf 69 (Caitlin Wernentin 26, Danielle Pennington 19, Anna Willey 12). Assists — Clinton 52 (Harris 52); Bettendorf 65 (Megan Sharkey 33, Willey 26). Ace serves — Clinton 10 (Harris 5, Wenzel 3, Wing 2); Bettendorf 17 (Erin Levsen 5, Shelby Brandt 3, Sharkey 3, Pennington 3). Blocks — Clinton 8 (Tubbs 3, Harris 2); Bettendorf 18 (Willey 7, Tessa Henderson 6, Hannah Matt 3). Digs — Clinton 105 (Wing 20, Harris 19, Gabby Haan 15, Schultheis 12, Shannon Shovlain 10, Hannah Dehner 10); Bettendorf 75 (Brandt 27, Willey 14. Wernentin 9, Sharkey 9, Pennington 9).