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SPOTLIGHT
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Thunderhawks 2-1 in pool play

Published on -10/28/2012, 7:46 PM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Wheatland-Grinnell High School volleyball team has played together since the fourth and fifth grade. Many Thunderhawks on the close-knit group were key players on the state runner-up team from two seasons ago, including seniors Brooke Ostmeyer and Brandace Goetz.

All season, Wheatland-Grinnell has focused on returning to the state tournament and playing for a championship after a narrow loss in sub-state last fall.

"We have been looking forward to this all year," Ostmeyer, a four-year starter and two-time all-state setter, said.

On Friday, the Thunderhawks had a solid Day 1 at the Class 1A, Division II state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The No. 5 seed, Wheatland-Grinnell went 2-1 and finished second in its pool behind top seed and defending state champion Baileyville-B&B. The top two squads in each pool advanced to Saturday's semifinals.

The Thunderhawks defeated Ingalls 25-20, 23-25, 25-12, lost to B&B, 25-13, 25-22 and beat McPherson-Elyria Christian 25-13, 25-9. Serving was the lone problem for Wheatland-Grinnell (31-10).

"I think we were just not focused," junior Paige Ramey said. "I think the court has a big role, because you can't see the end line. In our gym, you can always see the end line, so it's really hard to place your serves."

However, Wheatland-Grinnell played much better against B&B after an early switch in tactics, a change that provided the team with confidence entering Saturday.

"It's our turn tomorrow," Ostmeyer said. "They got it today, we get it tomorrow."

The Falcons, paced by junior Laura Sudbeck and senior Haley Strathman, have a big front line. Early on, the Thunderhawks tried for powerful swings and consistently had their attempts blocked. Wheatland-Grinnell trailed 10-3 early in the first set.

Then, the Thunderhawks made some rotation changes and tried for more placement hits.

"We wouldn't go for the taller block," Ramey said. "We went for the shorter block."

"We had to outsmart them," Ostmeyer said.

In the second set, the Thunderhawks were tied at 21, but the Falcons went on a 4-1 run to close out the set.

"I think what cost us in the second set, we just made some really stupid plays, and the girls will all say that, too," coach Allison Polifka said. "It's normally very uncharacteristic of us to make those kinds of plays. Overcoming that I think would help, but they also got some confidence in that second set, that we can play with them and we can go right with them."

In the day's first match, Wheatland-Grinnell split its first two sets with Ingalls, making its first trip to state since 1978. In the third set, the Thunderhawks trailed 9-6, but finished on a 19-3 run.

"We always said, 'They get one serve,' " Ostmeyer said. "We always try to side out as soon as we can. If we mess up, we don't let it bother us."

Junior Tristan Rathgeber collected seven kills and Ramey had two kills late. Often, Ingalls had trouble blocking on the outside.

"All morning, she played really smart," Polifka said of Ramey. "A great player. She is seeing the court well, and not only that, but what she is providing in the back row. She does a great job of putting the ball down and making the adjustments that she needs to. But when she puts it down, it's her enthusiasm afterwards and kind of gets the whole team fired up."

In the last match, the Thunderhawks rolled out to a 7-2 lead in the first set and a 7-1 advantage in the second set and never trailed against No. 8 seed Elyria Christian.

The victory helped keep Wheatland-Grinnell from having to qualify based on a tiebreaker - and moved the program closer to a coveted first state title.

"Over the last several years, it seems like anytime that we get into a three-way tiebreaker, that we are the team on the outside looking in," Polifka said. "We knew we had to take care of business in that last match."

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