OTTUMWA — Ruth Thomas has a dream on Friday night.
She didn't want to tell her Ottumwa High School volleyball players about it. The head coach of the 12th-ranked (5A) Bulldogs kept it to herself.
Throughout Saturday, Thomas watched her dream become a reality. Ottumwa not only claimed their home tournament title for the third time in four years, but did so without dropping a set sweeping Albia (21-6, 22-20), Fairfield (24-22, 21-10), Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont (21-8, 21-11), Mount Pleasant (25-19, 25-14) and Davis County (25-21, 25-13) easily backing up their standing as the pre-tournament favorite.
"I actually had a dream that we pulled off winning the tournament without losing a set," Thomas said. "I didn't tell them about it until we had done it. I'm so amazed and impressed. It's one thing to say that you won a tournament, but it's something else to say you didn't drop a set. There were multiple times that we could have. We had to come back from a big deficit and had to catch up. We could have slipped multiple times and we didn't. When we needed to, we got back into it. I can't say enough about the mental toughness and the belief they've developed in themselves in each other."
The Mustangs put themselves in position to win their first tournament title of the season, sweeping Mount Pleasant (25-15, 25-22) and Washington (25-17, 25-16) in pool play before rallying past Albia in the gold bracket semifinals. Despite missing hitters Morgan Petefish and Kayla Joos, who went down in Davis County's opening win over Mount Pleasant, the Mustangs (9-10) battled into the championship match winning the only three-set match of the day with a 24-26, 25-20, 15-7 win over the Lady Dees.
"We made some adjustments and found a way to make it work throughout most of the day," Davis County head volleyball coach Brooke Mason said. "We're obviously not satisfied, because we're always striving to be better, but we had to make some quick adjustments. Those players that stepped in played well, especially because those players don't practice there. I think they did really well to step in without that experience in any of those positions."
Albia earned a split on Saturday after having a five-match winning streak snapped two days earlier at Mount Pleasant. Emma Wenger delivered five aces and 30 assists to lead the Lady Dees (9-5) in Thursday's 25-17, 12-25, 25-15, 25-14 setback against the Panthers, who joined Albia in the semifinals on Saturday before losing to the Bulldogs.
"We came back and fought. If we consistently play our game, we're on," Albia head volleyball coach Missy Cox-Dustin said. "There are just lots of little mistakes that cost us. We've got to learn to eliminate our errors."
Fairfield was able to snap a seven-match losing streak after going 0-3 with losses to Ottumwa, EBF (21-15, 21-19) and Albia (21-19, 21-15) in pool play. The Trojans beat Southeast Conference rival Washington 26-24 and 25-19 to make it to the silver bracket final before falling once more to EBF 25-17 and 25-17.
"We had some great volleys and made some fantastic plays," Fairfield head volleyball coach Diane Drish said. "We just had too many hitting errors. We're still a very young team that's getting plenty of experience with every match we play."
Danielle Breen led the Trojans with four ace serves while Mallory Lyon and Ellie Anderson each collected four blocks on Saturday to lead Fairfield defensively at the net. Anna Dunlap collected 17 kills in five matches, Mallory Jones finished with 37 assists and Kiya Robertson finished with a team-best 33 digs.
Jones led the Trojans with five ace serves and 17 assists in a 27-25, 13-25, 25-15, 25-16 Southeast Conference road loss to the Bloodhounds on Thursday. Dunlap led Fairfield (4-9, 1-1 SEC) at the net with 14 kills while Breen collected 22 digs.
EBF was kept out of the Ottumwa tournament gold bracket semifinals by Albia, falling in the final pool play match of the tournament. The Lady Dees won 21-14 and 21-15 in the first of two matches for Albia against South Central Conference rivals.
Brooke Shafer led EBF (8-7) at the net with 11 kills and matched Cooper Champoux with three blocks in the tournament. Champoux added 23 assists, Whitney Klyn led the Rockets with seven aces and Emalee Davis finished with 33 digs to help EBF win the silver bracket title with a second win on the day against Fairfield.
"We started out the tournament very strong winning over Fairfield in our first match. The next couple did not go as well," EBF head volleyball Gladys Genskow said. "We couldn't find any consistency in our game. Our serve-receive broke our mental toughness and we couldn't seem to battle back from that until we played our last match of the day. That match was so much better. We controlled the match early on and played relaxed allowing for us to find that consistency needed to be successful and win the silver bracket."