ELDON — The third time proved to be the charm for Chelsey Huff with a pivotal set on the line Monday night.
The question now for the rest of the Van Buren County volleyball team is, will the third time be the charm Thursday against the top-ranked team in Class 1A?
After being blocked twice in consecutive swings at the net by Cardinal teammates Trista Benedict and Kinsey Hissem, including once on match, Huff hammered home her final kill of the night to give the Warriors a second chance to close out a sweep against the Comets. The ensuing ace serve closed out a much-needed multi-win night for VBC, snapping a seven-match losing streak with sweeps of Moravia (25-16, 25-9) and Cardinal (25-15, 26-24) in a triangular hosted by the Comets.
"It's been a little rough for us lately. It felt amazing to come through of it as a better team," Huff said. "We've learned a lot about what we needed to work on. We knew coming into this that we were going to need to talk a lot more than we have."
The Warriors and Comets were coming into the triangular coming off very different weekend results. Van Buren County lost all five matches on Saturday at the Keokuk Tournament falling to the hosting Chiefs (21-18, 21-11), Central Lee (21-2, 25-23), New London (21-8, 21-12), Notre Dame (21-16, 21-15) and a second meeting in five days with top-ranked (1A) Holy Trinity (21-8, 21-18) with a third match-up coming on Thursday in the pool play portion of the Southeast Iowa Superconference tournament.
"We needed something positive going into Thursday," Van Buren County head volleyball coach Abby Manning said. "We know going into every match, especially in this conference, we put the focus on going out there to compete. We really didn't do that to the best of our ability on Saturday. I guess they needed this to regain their confidence, come back and compete."
Kadence Nusbaum collected 37 digs in the tournament for the Warriors while going 28-29 serving. Isabel Manning added 37 assists, 17 digs, 10 kills, four assisted blocks and two aces on 24-25 serving.
Ella Jirak was 19-23 serving with eight kills, 11 digs, four blocks and two assists. Huff collected 21 kills, 13 digs and five assists in the tournament on Saturday before coming back to find even better results at the net on Monday.
"Chelsey was really on and strong," Manning said. "We needed a hitter to get through the blockers and over the blockers. She executed really well."
Cardinal, meanwhile, had a winning weekend taking three of four matches in their home tournament on Saturday. The Comets won 21-15, 25-11 over Moulton-Udell, 21-16, 21-11 over Twin Cedars and 21-16, 21-6 over Seymour in tournament play before opening Monday's triangular with a 25-22, 25-16 win over Moravia, who fell to 3-5 on the season with a pair of losses.
"I think Saturday really helped to get some wins under our belt," Cardinal head volleyball coach Katie Orwig said. "It also helped to start the night with another win. It really has helped get our confidence going in the right direction."
Centerville went 4-0 in the tournament, earning a 21-17, 21-15 win over the Comets in the match that ultimately decided the championship. The Redettes added two-set sweeps against Seymour (21-5, 21-7), Twin Cedars 21-16, 21-6) and Moulton-Udell (21-8, 21-11) to pull even at 10-10 on the season while dropping the Eagles to 0-7.
After opening the night winning a tough first set against Moravia, the Comets (6-7) perhaps saved the best for last by nearly pushing Van Buren County (5-9) into an all-or-nothing third set. The Warriors scored six of the first eight points in the second set after opening with a 10-point win, including nine kills in the set, and seemed poised to easily complete a sweep of their SEI south rivals.
Hissem, however, served Cardinal back into the set with back-to-back aces that tied the score at 6-6. Shea Scott and Sydney Pickrell exchanged kills with Benedict and Riley Bears countered blocks with Manning and Jirak as the Comets eventually pulled ahead 12-10, forcing a timeout by the Warriors.
"That is the team I've been waiting to show up," Orwig said of the Comets. "That was really good to see. They put in the fight. They gave the energy. The passing was there. The hitting was there. All the pieces just flowed together."
Scott scored on an ace, Jirak and Manning added a tiebreaking block and Huff scored on a kill as the Warriors went back on top 14-12 in the set. Benedict and Manning both had a pair of kills for their respective teams as the teams exchanged 14 ties in the back-and-forth conclusion to the night.
Tying kills by Jirak and Scott was countered by a tiebreaking winner at the net by Pickrell as Cardinal opened a 23-21 lead, making a third set even more of a reality. The Warriors scored three straight points to set up match point before Benedict and Hissem blocked Huff's first attempt at closing out the match.
The Comet duo made a second straight block on an even harder swing by Huff. The Warriors got the ball right back to the senior, who made sure not to be stopped for a third straight swing.
"I definitely knew there was going to be even more of a chance for them to feel like they could make a stop on me after making two straight blocks," Huff said. "I just decided I needed to hit it even harder. I couldn't just try to tip it over the block. I had to swing through it."
Huff finished with 26 kills and 11 digs in the triangular. Manning was one of five Warrior players to finish without a serving error, going 31-31 with three aces, 30 assists, six digs, four kills and four block assists. Scott added four aces on 16-16 serving while Nusbaum was 19-19 serving with a team-leading 15 digs.
While Van Buren County heads to Holy Trinity on Thursday, Cardinal will compete with West Burlington at Louisa-Muscatine in one of six pool play SEISC tournament qualifiers. The six teams that finish first in those triangulars will head to Loren Walker Arena in West Burlington on Saturday for the SEISC tournament.