By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Starting with trips back and forth to Dubuque years before they began high school, they had high hopes for their volleyball careers.
On Wednesday night, those seniors realized their long-time goal.
Marquette Catholic beat Belle Plaine 19-25, 25-15, 25-18, 25-22 in the Class 1A Region 7 final to clinch a berth in the state tournament.
“It’s a dream,” Lauren Swain, one of six Marquette senior starters, said. “This is what we’ve been working for for the last six years.”
The match started more like a nightmare than a dream on Halloween.
The Mohawks (29-5) lost the first two points, five of the first six and never led in a 25-19 Game 1 loss.
“We scared ourselves,” Danielle Bender said. “We were playing timid and scared, but we got ourselves through it.”
Marquette wanted to make sure to avoid a repeat of a five-game loss to Janesville in the regional final last year, a loss that haunted them until they scored the final point.
“I think it was nerves,” Kelsey Tebbe said. “In the back of our minds was what happened last year. In the second game, we came out and knew we had to play our game. It being our senior year makes it even better.”
The players said this win exorcised the memories of the Janesville loss.
“We kept playing that game over and over in our heads,” Erica Sieverding said. “We did not want to feel like that again.”
They don’t have to. After surrendering the first point in Game 2, the Mohawks — ranked eighth — reeled off five points in a row, including a kill by Jacquel Frett, a solo block by Kelli Herrig and a Tebbe ace.
Marquette never let Belle Plaine (22-9) into the second game, keeping its lead between eight and 10 most of the way.
“We were just playing the way we know we can, going for it,” Bender said.
Belle Plaine scored the first point of Game 3, as well. But the Mohawks scored the next three and never lost the lead.
Kameo Pope — who ranked fifth in Class 1A in kills a game — had a match-high 19 kills for Belle Plaine but only seven combined in Games 2 and 3.
“We couldn’t get tape of them,” Bender said. “We knew they had one good girl, but we didn’t do a good job against her early.
“Then we started playing defense better and being more aware. She was easy to read; we just had to read her shoulders.”
Marquette coach Jill Herrig credited her team’s blocking for disrupting Pope in the middle games. The Mohawks had two solo blocks — both by Kelli Herrig, who had six total — and six combined blocks, with six coming in the middle two games.
“Blocking, I think, is huge against an excellent hitter,” coach Herrig said. “It’s hard to get around our block. It can take a hitter out of their game.”
The Mohawks served 16 aces with nine coming in the middle games. Sieverding and Tebbe each had four to lead Marquette.
“Actually we’ve had trouble this season with our serving, but we did awesome tonight,” Sieverding said.
Game 4 was a different story. Marquette seemed as if it were going to run away with the game, taking a 7-2 lead on two aces and a kill by Herrig, a Bender kill, a Tebbe ace, a Frett kill and a combined block by Herrig and Frett. But Belle Plaine, and Pope, wouldn’t go away. Pope had seven kills — five on tips — two solo blocks and three ace serves in Game 4.
Belle Plaine scored the next eight points to take an 8-7 lead. The teams battled back and forth and were tied at 12, 18 and 19.
“It definitely was all worth it,” Tebbe said. “Everything the coaches pushed us to do and we hated to do in practice, it paid off in Game 4.
“We were ahead pretty much the whole game. We needed to finish it. We did not want to go to five.”
The Mohawks scored the next three points — two on kills by Swain and one on a Belle Plaine error — to go ahead 22-19. Belle Plaine followed with back-to-back points before Swain knocked down another kill to put Marquette ahead 23-21.
“I just focused on the game and tried to play my best,” Swain said. “I put it all on the court.”
Pope got a kill off serve-receive to pull her team within one, but then a service error gave Marquette match point.
Swain served the ball. After it came back over the net, Tebbe set it to Kelli Herrig, who attacked it. Then the Mohawks waited with baited breath as Belle Plaine got two touches on the ball but could not control it, giving Herrig the game-winning kill and the Mohawks their first trip to the state tournament since 2004 and second in school history. The journey that started with playing club volleyball in Dubuque continues next Thursday in Cedar Rapids at the Ice Arena when the Mohawks take on No. 2 Fort Madison Holy Trinity Catholic (43-4).
“State was on the line,” Tebbe said. “We wanted it more than anyone else wanted it. It was our time to do it.”
MARQUETTE CATHOLIC 19-25-25-25, BELLE PLAINE 25-15-18-22
Kills — Marquette (Danielle Bender 10, Kelli Herrig 9, Jacquel Frett 8, Lauren Swain 5, Erica Sieverding 3, Kelsey Tebbe 1); Belle Plaine (Kameo Pope 19, Taylor Janss 6, Emily Coover 4, Molly O’Brien 3). Assists — Marquette (Tebbe 31, Bender 3. Justine Kalmes 1); Belle Plaine (Marisa Pope 20, Melissa Stull 8). Ace serves — Marquette (Sieverding 4, Tebbe 4, Herrig 3, Frett 3, Bender 1); Belle Plaine (K. Pope 4, Coover 2, Stull 2). Blocks — Marquette (Herrig 6, Frett 4, Bender 1, Tebbe 1, Sieverding 1, Swain 1); Belle Plaine (K. Pope 5, Janss 1).