KEOSAUQUA — The target on the Van Buren High School volleyball team's uniform is large.
Grace Davidson pounded 18 kills, and the fourth-ranked (Class 2A) Warriors fought off a West Burlington's challenge in all three games of a 25-22, 25-20, 25-21 SEI Superconference South Division win Thursday.
"We know that everyone is out for us, and that's a good challenge for us," said Davidson, one of seven seniors on a talented roster. "Our conference is really good this year, and these are the matches that will help us develop."
Van Buren (7-0, 1-0 South), which has already won a tournament this year, will face stiff competition over the next several weeks in the form of tournaments and its own division. Winning matches like those against the Falcons are critical if the Warriors hope to contend for a title in a division with plenty of parity.
"These are the matches you want," Van Buren coach Matt Zeitler said. "West Burlington is young, and they're going to be OK before it's done. I think our age probably won this, and our kids really buckled down when they had to."
In the first game, Van Buren suffered a sluggish start, but the game turned out to be the closest game despite being the most lopsided at any given point. The Warriors led 21-13 after a long serving run by Logan Schmitt, but the Lady Falcons chipped away steadily, getting within 23-22 on an ace by Sydney Marlow.
The second and third games offered plenty of hard-fought, back-and-forth volleyball. Neither team led the second game by more than two points until Van Buren took a 19-16 lead on a block out of bounds. The Warriors found another gear after a West Burlington timeout, as Taryn Scheuermann had a pair of kills and Schmitt an ace to pull out the win as they scored five of the last six points.
West Burlington led 17-16 in the third in another game featuring several long rallies, but Van Buren scored six straight points with Schmitt serving, as Scheuermann had three straight kills to make it 22-17. Scheuermann then added a kill to finish off the win.
"Taryn played really, really well tonight," Zeitler said. "Grace had an exceptional match just by placing the ball well and hitting to open spots."
A good example was that in the first game when Davidson scored a few points points on attacks that deflected and hit the floor on the Lady Falcons' side of the net.
"Points are points," she chuckled. "You take anything you can in a game like this."
Still, West Burlington didn't make it easy; there were times when the Warriors were out of sorts.
"Very few of their shots are free balls. There's a lot of downspin on just about everything they hit," Davidson said. "Whenever we play them we expect to play a lot of hard volleyball. You have to work for everything against them."
Zeitler said West Burlington was a different team than when they both opened the season at the WACO tournament. Marlow was a handful all night because of her powerful attack and jumping ability.
"They're more than just her, though," he said. "Someone has to get her the ball, but she is really good.
"It's good for the kids to go through matches like these," he said. "We had our hands full all night, right to the end."
Van Buren visits Cardinal Tuesday.
No. 4 Van Buren 25-25-25, West Burlington 22-20-21
Van Buren statistics
Kills — Grace Davidson 18, Selena Sayre 13, Taryn Scheuermann 10
Assists — Madison Bartholomew 20, Logan Schmitt 18
Serving — Bartholomew 12-12, Schmitt 19-19 (3 aces), Chloe Davidson 8-9, Sayre 10-10 (1 ace), Isabel Manning 12-13
Digs — Manning 15, Sayre 10, G.Davidson 9, Bartholomew 7
Records: Van Buren 7-0 (1-0).