Rebels working their way into shape

Ava Wyatt (6) and Katie Clark (10) go up to block a shot against South Hardin's Emma Salvo in their NICL conference opener on Sept. 2. The Tigers won the match 3-1 and are undefeated through the first two weeks of the season.

The Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball team is trying to climb back up the mountain.

The Rebels waged a dominant campaign in 2020 that ended with a 34-3 record, numerous postseason accolades and a Class 1A runner-up trophy.

Several key players return from last season’s playoff roster, yet Head Coach Paula Kelley said the team has work to do in improving their defense and establishing chemistry on the court.

Coming off their state appearance last November, the Rebels began their season ranked as a top five team in Class 1A.

One highlight early on was capturing a tournament championship at Montezuma, a feat that eluded the squad in earlier seasons.

The Rebels began the Aug. 31 tournament with two-set sweeps over GMG and North Mahaska. They then faced Williamsburg in the semifinals and again in the championship match. In both instances G-R won the first set, lost the second and rallied to win the third.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck faltered in their conference opener against South Hardin however. The Rebels came out hot with a 25-18 victory in the first set. The Tigers offense picked up the pace in the second set and it was too much for the G-R defense to handle, ultimately winning 3-1 with scores of 25-15, 25-21 and 25-21.

On Saturday the team traveled to North Tama for the annual Redhawks tournament. Against quality NICL competition the Rebels suffered two more losses, a second round match in straight sets against 3A #12 Union and the tournament semifinal game against Dunkerton.

Against the Raiders G-R fell in their opening set 25-23 but rallied in the second 26-24. Dunkerton outlasted G-R in the final set 15-11 to advance to the championship match.

The biggest loss for the Rebels from last season was the departure of all-state outside hitter Saari Kuehl, a four-year starter that is now playing for Southwest Minnesota State University.

Kuehl was the scoring leader for the Rebels in each of her four seasons, accounting for 1,550 career kills.

In attempting to fill the shoes left by Kuehl this season, she said the team is taking an approach by-committee.

“You can’t replace the type of kids that we had last year,” Kelley said. “So we’re working by committee, especially on the offensive side. We’re just sharing the ball around a lot more. We now have everybody else kind of pick up the slack in there. And that seems to have gone really well.”

Through the first two weeks of play, the Rebels have been led by their two tall hitters, Ava Wyatt and Megan Cooley. Wyatt has racked up 63 kills and a team high 13 aces over eight matches. Cooley was next at the net with 47 kills and the highest kill efficiency on the team.

Other key returners for the Rebels are seniors Mahayla Olson and Katie Clark as well as junior Emma McClintock.

Defensively, Clark leads the team with 58 digs and Cooley with 11 blocks.

Kelley said a point of emphasis for the 2021 squad is improving as a defensive unit.

“When our defense is working, everything else is working. And when our defense is struggling, everything else struggles,” Kelley said.

A newcomer to the G-R lineup this year is Lily Dripps, a freshman right side defender. Dripps so far has started six of the Rebels first eight contests, contributing 18 kills.

As the Rebels look to build their way back to the state tournament, Kelley believes the mental aspect of the game is one of the most important developments the Rebels will need to see occur if they’re to make another deep playoff run.

“They need to play with confidence and they need to play together,” Kelley said. “You can have all the skill in the world, but if you can’t put it together with the team, then it makes it really hard to go very far. I think once they gain that confidence in themselves and each other, and start really meshing together consistently as a team, I think that’s what’s going to get us where we want to go at the end of the season.”

Gladbrook-Reinbeck held their Parent Night on Tuesday against BCLUW and will travel to North Tama on Thursday for a dual against the Redhawks. Over the weekend the Rebels are set to compete at the South Hardin Tournament in Eldora.

Their final two home games will be on Sept. 18 for their home tournament and on Sept. 28 in a showdown with 2A #9 Grundy Center.