WAYLAND — The fifth-ranked (Class 2A) Van Buren High School volleyball team couldn’t have started its season any better.

But it was more than winning that was gratifying.

The Warriors battled back from a nine-point deficit in a pool play match against West Burlington, then took WACO’s best shot in the championship in a 25-19, 15-25, 15-10 victory to claim WACO’s invitational Monday.

“A lot of things happen for us because we’re so close as teammates on and off the court,” said Van Buren senior outside hitter Selena Sayre. “There isn’t a bad player on our team. Whoever goes out there does their job.”

The Warriors (4-0) have seen the best their own division of the SEI Superconference has to offer in the last week. They scrimmaged Holy Trinity and New London, needed to battle against West Burlington, then held off WACO. All four South Division teams are strong competition.

“What I really liked tonight was the resilience,” Van Buren coach Matt Zeitler said. “If we have a five-point lead, I don’t think anyone will come back on us. Volleyball is a weird game. You can make error upon error, but then you have a big lead.”

All three games were tight with WACO (3-1), but Van Buren gradually pulled away in the opener on the serve of Sayre and Madison Bartholomew, but a timely kill by Taryn Scheuermann that gave the Warriors a 20-16 lead.

WACO pulled away late in the second game on the strength of three straight aces by Ellie Miles, then Van Buren got a fast start in the third game, and rode strong serving to the victory.

“WACO’s outside hitting was a big problem for us,” Sayre said. “We don’t have the tallest players on the court, but their defense is also really strong.”

“I want three games like we got against WACO. These were great games,” Zeitler said. “WACO has a really sound team. They get to a lot of balls.”

Pekin (1-2) finished third in its pool with Columbus, WACO and Wapello. The Panthers were swept by Wapello in their first match, swept Columbus in the middle match before taking WACO to three games.

Against WACO, Pekin pulled out a strong 21-18 win in the first game before WACO responded in the final two to pull out a victory in a battle of territorial rivals.

Van Buren starts the season ranked fifth, and Zeitler isn’t sure if that is accurate. He’s also not sure if his team isn’t a top-five team.

“Honestly, I don’t know. On the right day, when everything is clicking and we’re playing to our potential, we very well could be,” he said. “This is a spot our kids have been in before, so they know. It’s all about the mental side for the kids.

“It’s also early,” he said. “We have 30 or so matches to play yet.”

Van Buren against Winfield-Mount Union and Keokuk Thursday in Winfield.

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com.

and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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