The two opening-round matches of the class 3A State tournament could get confusing really fast. All four teams that are playing, Davenport Assumption, Union, Kuemper Catholic and Unity Christian, all are nicknamed the Knights.
For the No. 2 seeded Kuemper Catholic team, their Knight opponent isn’t anything they haven’t seen before.
“They will be similar to what we played in Humboldt, but probably a step up from what we saw from Humboldt,” said Kuemper Catholic head volleyball coach Keith Stickrod. “They are a good team, and we will be excited to play them.”
Unity Christian is a team that hits the ball well. They are led by freshman hitter Gracie Schoonhoven who has collected 304 kills throughout the year. Not far behind is junior Janie Schoonhoven who has 223 kills on the year. Senior Micah Byl has been able to hit her way to 166 kills.
While the three top killers of Unity Christian could be scary for some teams, Kuemper might feel right at home playing against Unity Christian.
“This first round match is to our benefit,” said Stickrod. “This team favors us a little better because we practice against what we are going to be seeing everyday in practice. We can actually play against what we are seeing. I like these type of matches where we know what to expect coming in.”
Unity Christian might be the seventh-seeded team in the tournament, but Stickrod indicated that might be a bit of a deceiving seed. The Unity Christian Knights don’t have the greatest record, but they have played a lot of tough teams in their regular season schedule.
Even along the tournament trail the UC Knights had challenges. But Kuemper played in an equally tough conference (a total of four Hawkeye 10 Conference teams made the State tournaments). The defending State champions also learned a thing or two from their regional competition that should help them against Unity Christian.
“We came into the match against Greene County and I thought we’d take care of business like we did,” Stickrod said. “OA-BCIG was a little better. They don’t play the level of competition we play, but they do did things that we aren’t used to seeing. We were able to defend that pretty well. Unity Christian does do some things that we saw against OA-BCIG, like pushing the ball around the court, so that will help.
“Against Humboldt, we saw a team that is nearly on the same level as Unity Christian. If we can go out and block like we did against Humboldt, we should be able to have the same success we did. That will also bring confidence with us, because we know that we were so dominant blocking in the match against Humboldt.”
Blocking could be a part of the match that decides who moves onto the semifinals. Of tournament teams Kuemper Catholic is the second-best blocking team in the class 3A tournament.
“All of the competition that we’ve seen through our conference play and such this year we’ve really been able to block well,” Stickrod said. “We’re going to have to have the same principles that we’ve had all year. Get up to the net, push over the net and do your job. We’ll have to remember not to block space, but block the player. It’s something we’ve worked on all year long, so we know what we are doing and it should help us.”
Unity Christian is the fifth-best blocking team in the tournament.
Unity Christian is led by sophomore Jenna Bouma who has been able to block 57 shots this year, 24 of those have been solo blocks.
That could be a good matchup as the Knights of Kuemper Catholic is led offensively by senior Kara Peter who has 482 kills on the year. Anna Niehaus has added another 255 kills.
In order to hit around the blocks the setters of Kuemper’s offense, senior Mariah Naberhaus and Ashlyn Badding who have combined for over 900 assists on the year (Kuemper has the fourth-most assists of all the class 3A tournament teams) will have to keep the passes going to several of the talented hitters on the Kuemper team.
Stickrod said that the biggest thing that will help either of the teams advance to the semifinals is showing up ready to play on Wednesday morning.