The Ottumwa Courier

November 19, 2013

Home away from home for EBF at state

By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — CEDAR RAPIDS — Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

That will always be the date that will go down as the day Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont made history by winning for the first time ever at the State Volleyball Tournament.

Yes, EBF did have to actually come out and beat fourth-ranked Council Bluffs-St. Albert on that particular day. If you asked EBF players and coaches who pulled off that first state victory, however, there’s another day that might be even more memorable.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013. The day EBF players were introduced to the newly-renovated U.S. Cellular Center during a state volleyball tournament.

For some Rockets, that day was more nerve-racking than Wednesday’s first match.

“Being in here for the first time made me a little bit nervous,” Alexander said. “I think I was more excited than nervous, though. I think after being in here made me ready to play.”

Sophomore hitter Karlie Taylor concurred. Tuesday’s walk-through to watch the opening day of play at state made it easy for the Rockets’ top hitter to literally drown out the surroundings of the tournament’s atmosphere heading into day two’s Class 2A state quarterfinal round action.

“It helped us a lot. It gave us a great indication of what it was going to be like during a match,” Taylor said. “The student sections are so loud, so I just figured that we’d get that the next day.”

“It was kind of intimidating at first because it’s a totally different atmosphere than a normal high school volleyball match,” junior setter Paige Shafer added. “I’m really glad we came in.”

That was exactly the way Gladys Genskow, who has been coaching EBF volleyball for the past 17 years, planned it as she prepared to bring just her second EBF volleyball team to state.

“I think coming up here the night before was the biggest key,” Genskow said. “Coming up here allowed us to see how things went on up here.”

Once again on Wednesday, there was noise echoing all throughout the U.S. Cellular Center with fans from four different teams packing in to pull for the final four 3A teams to take the floor at state before the first four 2A teams took center stage. All told, there was plenty of noise from the student sections that cheered on Union, Nevada, Carroll Kuemper and Red Oak before Hinton, Sumner-Fredericksburg and Council Bluffs. St. Albert fans joined the EBF contingent in the opening two session of matches.

But whether it was warming up in an open conference room during the 3A matches or prepping for the encounter with St. Albert out on Court 1 at the U.S. Cellular Center, nothing seemed to faze EBF. The Rockets looked like they were back home playing in its home gymnasium against the Saints, getting off to strong starts in each of the four games they played on Wednesday.

If not for a season-extending comeback in game three, EBF would have used strong starts in each game to pave the way to a state tournament sweep.

“I think it’s important for them, just mentally, so be able to have that tone set early in each game,” Genskow said. “Even though they do seem to play well under pressure, as long as they can get the ball to who they need to, it helps them play the game that’s gotten us to this point.

“We served aggressive. We passed the ball well and really did a great job digging the ball. It just seemed like they played without any nerves and I think making that walkthrough made all the difference in the world for our girls.”

If simply walking through the arena during state volleyball action calmed the Rockets on Wednesday, actually playing and winning in the state tournament arena ought to do wonders for the psyches of the EBF spikers. Genskow’s squad will need to be well-prepared mentally for a battle with defending 2A state champion Dike-New Hartford in today’s state semifinal round.

Genskow, for one, is confident in her team’s ability to hang with the reigning best team in 2A Tournament.

“At this point, we’ve already done so many great things this season,” Genskow said. “I told them in the locker room that, from this point on, each win we get is a bonus on our season. All of these girls are proud of each other and have played so well together all year long.”

So what does a first-time semifinalist do to prepare for the pressures of playing the defending champs?

“We’ll go back to the hotel. We’ll chillax,” Taylor joked. “We’ll get some sleep and come back out here (today).”

Yep. That pretty much says it all about EBF’s first State Volleyball semifinalists.

“This is a totally different team than the one I brought here in 2006,” Genskow said. “Different girls. Definitely a different personality.”

To follow Scott Jackson’s Twitter feed, go to @stjack423