It was a very rough start to the week for the Western Dubuque volleyball team, defeated by Iowa City Liberty in four games (25-10, 25-13, 21-25, 25-23) in Epworth, Sept. 14.

Many people had this match-up between the Bobcats, the second-ranked team in Class 4A, and the Lightning, number three in Class 5A, circled on their calendar as one of the best matches of the season. It very well could have been if the Bobcats took the court with the energy and focus that they brought to the battlefield to start games three and four. Unfortunately, they struggled to score back-to-back points in the first two games and were down and all but out after being totally thumped in those games 25-10, 25-13.

“That kind of play is unacceptable. There is a reason why we’re the second-ranked team in 4A. We’re a good volleyball team and a good volleyball team can’t come out and play like that,” said Megan Scherrman, head coach. “We talked about that long and hard after those first two games. Everyone’s got to dig deep and do better and they definitely did that the rest of the night.”

Down early in the third game, the Bobcats got that twinkle in their eye after winning a long rally to break Iowa City’s serve. That put the ball into the hands of Meredith Bahl who turned being down by one into a 12-7 lead. The Lightning did battle back, but played from behind until they managed to grab a slim and short-lived advantage at 20-19.

Bahl and Libby Lansing took over and combined with setter Madison Maahs to win five of the next six points as the Bobcats closed out that game clearly winning and controlling the play of the final four points, 25-21.

“Sometimes we come out and play a little tentative in the first game and I think it’s because they try to do too much. They are trying too hard to place the ball or they are trying too hard to put a ball somewhere on the court. I tell them that sometimes this game is simple. Sometimes you pass the ball, you set the ball, you hit the ball,” said Scherrman. “We did a lot more of that in the final two games of the night and ended up being a pretty good way to play volleyball. Listen, we’ve got a strong offensive front line that sometimes just has to go up and hit the ball.”

The battle between two talented teams continued in the fourth game. There were 13 lead changes in the early going of this one until the Lightning extended the lead to 16-14. The teams exchanged side-outs until Carlie Schroeder’s float serve rode up Bahl’s for a 20-17 lead.

The Bobcats kept fighting but weren’t able to gain control of the game with the serve. Bahl’s back-row kill and Lansing’s spike that danced along the tape and dropped to the floor got them to within one at 21-20. However, they were never able to pull even with Iowa City who stayed calm and kept exchanging side outs to claim a 25-23 win.

With the loss, the Bobcats fall to 2-2 in the Mississippi Division of the Mississippi Valley Conference while the Lightning moved to the top of the same division with a record of 4-0, 16-3 overall.

“We have to do better from the start. We talked about that in the locker room that we can’t come out and play like that ever again,” said Scherrman. “That just can’t happen, so we have to figure out whether it’s mental or physical. We need to find out what the deal is and start to come out and execute right away from point one every time.”

“It’s hard to believe, but we are already getting closer and closer to the end of September so we have to start fixing these things and we have to start fixing them now,” said Scherrman.

The Bobcats took that message to heart as they had a chance to change the way they take the court when they played in the Eileen Beniga Invite in Waterloo, Sept. 18. It seemed to work as they went 5-0 in the tournament including a revenge victory over Cedar Falls, the team who beat the Bobcats’ on the first night of the season, in the championship match.

The focused Bobcats handled things in pool play as they took care of Hudson (21-9,21-9) Wapsie Valley, ranked seventh in Class 2A, (21-18, 10-21, 15-11) and Don Bosco (21-10, 21-10). They moved to the semifinal where they beat tournament host Waterloo West (25-10, 25-10). Then it was Cedar Falls’ turn to experience the new look Bobcats who took it to the Tigers (15-4) winning the title in three (25-20, 17-25, 15-11).

WD’s leaders vs Iowa City Liberty were: kills — Bahl 19, Harris 14, Lansing nine, Anna Kluesner and Maahs two, Franny Heiberger one; assists — Maahs 44; digs — Ella Meyer 35, Natalie Ulrichs 18, Bahl and Maahs 14 , Harris 11, Emma Kapler and Hailey Wulfekuhle one; blocks — Lansing two; serves — Meyer 10-of-10, Ulrichs 15-of-16, Kapler 11-of-12, Bahl and Harris 10-of-11 each; aces — Bahl two.

WD’s leaders at Beninga Invitational were: kills — Bahl 27, Harris 23, Lansing 14, Kluesner seven, Heiberger, Kapler and Maahs three; assists — Maahs 67, Ava Demmer six, Meyer two; digs — Meyer 23, Ulrichs 21, Harris 15, Bahl 10, Maahs nine; blocks — Lansing 5, Harris, Heiberger and Maahs three, Kluesner two, Bahl one; serves — Bahl 18-of-18, Ulrichs 33-of-34, Meyer 22-of-23, Kapler 18-of, Maahs 22-of-24; aces — Ulrich seven, Meyer three, Harris two.

(No stats available from Hudson and Wapsie Valley matches.)