MIFFLIN — Iowa–Grant’s 2016 volleyball season hit a slick spot in the final week of the season. Coach Marla Simon’s team closed the regular season with back-to-back conference losses to Cuba City and Darlington.
Fast forward a week and Simon and the Panthers are on cloud nine, champions of the WIAA Division 3 regional after back-to-back revenge victories over Darlington and Cuba City.
Iowa–Grant overcame a game one loss in Saturday’s regional final to oust Kari Lawson’s Cubans 14–25, 25–19, 25–19, 25–20 to claim the program’s first regional title since 1999.
“It is truly amazing and awesome,” said an joyful Simon. “I feel our kids are so deserving of this. So many of them have put many years into their volleyball and this is quite the pay-out.”
After taking the first set, Cuba City (20–18–1) built an 8–3 lead in the second set. A few minutes later, with serving by Iowa–Grant freshman Olivia Liddicoat and junior Katie Olson, the Panthers had a 12–10 lead. That momentum swing propelled the Panthers to a 3–1 win, avenging two regular-season Cuba City wins.
Iowa–Grant (19–9) will travel to Wisconsin Heights (29–5) for the New Glarus Sectional semifinal Thursday at 7 p.m. The Vanguards defeated Iowa–Grant 25–8, 16–25, 15–6 in the semifinals of the Wisconsin Heights Invite on Oct. 1. The winner will play Marshall (19–11–2) or Oshkosh Lourdes (36–10) in New Glarus Saturday night.
Fourth-seeded Cuba City started the match by picking up where the Cubans left off in dismantling SWAL champion and top-seeded Mineral Point in three sets in the regional semifinal Thursday night. Megan Hartl served up four straight points, and Elizabeth Misky had back-to-back kills, to give Cuba City an 18–12 lead, and the Cubans closed out set one from there.
Though sets two and three had the same score, they were different sets, Olson served up seven straight points to give Iowa-Grant a 12–5 lead, and Cuba City never got closer than four points the rest of the way in the third set.
Set four, however, was a repeat of set two, though more dramatic. Maizie Splinter served up six straight points to give Cuba City an 11–4 lead. The lead disappeared at 15–15, and then seesawed between the teams until a Jessica Pluemer kill tied the set 20–20.
Olson then went to serve. A Pluemer block gave Iowa-Grant a 21–20 lead. An Emma Liddicoat block made it 22–20. An Emma Liddicoat kill made it 23–20. Two points later, the white-clad Panther student section raced onto the floor to celebrate the regional win.
“Dropping the first set was definitely not the way we wanted to start,” said Simon. “We were not passing well and unable to get any offense going. But, these kids just really dug in and never gave up. It is such a great win for our program, to beat Cuba City at home in a regional championship. I’m not sure if that has ever happened.”
Last Thursday, the Panthers defeated Darlington 25–22, 21–25, 25–22, 25–13 in a regional semifinal at IGHS.
Emma Liddicoat finished with 17 kills, including eight in the Panthers’ pivotal third set win, and 10 digs, while Katie Olson added 11 kills. Taylor Liddicoat passed out 48 assists and served up four aces. McCarthy led the Panthers with 16 digs and four aces.
“This was great win, especially since losing to them just a week ago and should have had them that night,” said Simon.
The Redbirds (18–5–2) defeated Iowa–Grant in five sets on Thursday, Oct. 13, the final night of the regular season, in the team’s first meeting of the season.
“I felt our biggest difference was much stronger net play and defense behind the block was great. Emma lead us with eight kills in the third set and Olivia Liddicoat factored in with a couple of big swings in sets three and four, along with some nice play to keep many balls alive. Taylor, Maranda and Emma were strong from the end line in serving. Overall, we were really building confidence as a team.”
The second-seeded Panthers opened regional play with a 25–7, 25–8, 21–25, 25–14 victory over seventh-seeded Boscobel last Tuesday night.
McCarthy had the hot hand Tuesday, serving up a season-high 10 aces to got along with seven digs. Emma Liddicoat slammed 13 kills to lead the Panthers.
McCarthy’s serving keyed a 17–0 run to give I–G a 24–6 lead in the opening set. She had another 14–0 service run in the second set to make it 21–7.
“It was pretty incredible for a player to do this in two different sets,” said Simon. “As a team we only missed three serves and we had strong hitting from out outside hitters, Emma and Katie, with Taylor leading the offense with her 39 assists.”
WIAA Division 3 regional quarterfinal
Iowa–Grant 3, Boscobel 1
(from Tuesday, Oct. 18 @ Iowa–Grant)
Boscobel 7 8 25 14
Iowa–Grant 25 25 21 25
Iowa–Grant stat leaders
Kills: Emma Liddicoat 13, Katie Olson 10, Jessica Pluemer 8. Blocks: Jessica Pluemer 4. Assists: Taylor Liddicoat 39. Aces: Maranda McCarthy 10, T. Liddicoat 4. Digs: 7, T. Liddicoat 5.
WIAA Division 3 regional semifinal
Iowa–Grant 3, Darlington 1
(from Thursday, Oct. 20 @ Iowa–Grant)
Darlington 22 25 22 13
Iowa–Grant 25 21 25 25
Iowa–Grant stat leaders
Kills: Emma Liddicoat 17, Kate Olson 11, Jessica Pluemer 5, Elana Winders 5. Blocks: Olivia Liddicoat 3, Shae McIntyre 2, Pluemer 2. Assists: Taylor Liddicoat 48. Aces: T. Liddicoat 4, Maranda McCarthy 4, E. Liddicoat 3. Digs: McCarthy 16, E. Liddicoat 10, T. Liddiocat 6, Olson 6.
WIAA Division 3 regional final
Iowa–Grant 3, Cuba City 1
(from Saturday, Oct. 20 @ Iowa–Grant)
Cuba City 25 19 19 20
Iowa–Grant 14 25 25 25
Iowa–Grant stat leaders
Kills: Emma Liddicoat 19, Kate Olson 11, Olivia Liddicoat 7. Blocks: Jessica Pluemer 4. Assists: Taylor Liddicoat 38. Aces: O. Liddicoat 4, E. Liddicoat 3. Digs: E. Liddicoat 13, Maranda McCarthy 10, Olson 6.