OTTUMWA – It didn't even dawn on Kiley Heller until the match was over on Tuesday night.
The lone returning senior starter on the Ottumwa High School volleyball team wasn't just sharing the floor with new teammates. Heller finished the first CIML Metro conference home win playing with five freshman teammates.
"I did notice it was a different team all around me," Heller said. "I didn't really notice is was all freshmen, but we've all really worked well together. We've all really connected together and improved as a team."
The senior libero and her five freshmen teammates put away a conference sweep at Evans Middle School Gymnasium. Ottumwa swept Des Moines Hoover 25-14, 25-8 and 25-15 before exiting the floor for the first time this season under the victory tunnel put together by the OHS student section.
"It was really fun," Heller said. "It was great having our entire hometown here to watch us win. Having everyone from our school there to celebrate afterwards was really nice."
Patricia Mulholland got to experience her first victory tunnel celebration in a unique way. The first-year head coach of the Bulldog volleyball team, still recovering from a broken foot, coasted through the tunnel on a scooter used to keep her foot elevated as it recovers.
"It almost makes it go by too fast," Mulholland joked.
Ottumwa was able to make quick work of the Huskies after a 10-point service run by Heller in the opening game quickly erased a 4-2 Hoover lead. Serving was just one aspect of dominance on Tuesday for the Bulldogs, who racked up a 13-3 edge in aces, a 33-10 edge in kills and a 41-17 edge over the Huskies in digs.
"I think finally getting that first win of the season last week at Des Moines East was a sign that we've had enough of getting beat," Heller said. "We've found our confidence. With every single point, we're giving it everything we've got. Instead of just being careful with the ball, we're going all out on the court. I think we've gotten a serious confidence boost over the past week."
Heller would lead Ottumwa with 17 digs and finished a perfect 18-18 serving the volleyball against Hoover. Rylea Hinebaugh, one of five Ottumwa freshmen that helped produce Ottumwa's second conference win, led the Bulldogs with five aces and dished out 25 of Ottumwa's 33 assists.
"It's been a lot to adjust to as a freshmen," Hinebaugh said. "It was really awesome to be able to share this experience with so many other freshmen. It was awesome to hear how loud the student section got. It was awesome to come through for them."
Hoover found the ball being fired back across the net from several different players as 11 Ottumwa spikers had at least one of Ottumwa's 33 kills in the sweep. While Heller led the Bulldogs in digs, 10 different Ottumwa players recorded at least one save anytime Hoover sent the ball back across the net.
"The girls definitely executed well and controlled their side of the net throughout the match," Mulholland said. "They didn't let anything else affect their play. That's what champions do. They keep the momentum on their side, play to the best of their ability and let everything take care of itself."
Kennedy Hugen led Ottumwa with nine kills in the match, hitting 17-18 on the night. Violet Hougland and Addison Ransom teamed up for Ottumwa's only block as the Bulldogs finished the match with an all-freshman front line of Hinebaugh, Makayla Brown and Brylee Jaeger.
Hoover (1-7, 0-2) was led by Logan Kleese, who racked up four kills on 10-11 attacking with seven digs. Tessa Silberhorn led Hoover with 10 assists and was a perfect 11-11 serving while Kylie Esch went 5-5 with the only ace of the match for the Huskies.
Ottumwa (4-13, 2-0 CIML Metro) hosts Des Moines North in a conference match on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
"Our goal from here on out is to sweep the Metro," Mulholland said. "There's always going to be some nerves anytime we get out there in front of a home crowd, but once we get into our routine, those nerves kind of go out the window."