Rebels take share of NICL title

Junior outside hitter Mahayla Olson attacks over the South Hardin front line during 1A No. 4 Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s 3-1 win over the South Hardin Tigers. The Rebels will wrap up their regular season at a tournament in Algona. G-R will have a first round playoff bye and will face the winner of GMG and North Tama at home on Oct. 21. Noah Rohlfing/Special to the Courier

ELDORA — When the ball hit the floor and the referee blew her whistle, the celebrations could begin for Class 1A No. 4 Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

On the road against the South Hardin Tigers — who already had a share of the NICL West Division title and were hoping to lock up the title outright — and after falling short in a tough third set, the Rebels (23-2) fought tooth and nail to win the fourth set 25-23, and beat the Tigers (18-13) 3-1 to clinch a share of the NICL West crown in a game of high-quality volleyball.

The win for G-R and Grundy Center’s win over BCLUW means there is a three-way tie at the top of the conference, with all three finishing 4-1 in NICL West play.

Rebels head coach Paula Kelley couldn’t contain her excitement.

“It feels wonderful,” Kelley said. “The last time G-R got it, I was a senior on the team. I’m really excited to see this kind of come full circle for me, and I’m excited for the girls, they really deserve it.”

The Rebels started the match strong in the first set, taking a 10-5 lead and putting the onus on the home team to fight back from behind early on. G-R couldn’t stay too far ahead as the home crowd urged South Hardin on, but in the end it was a 25-22 win for the Rebels — a big confidence boost heading into set two.

The second set was fairly stunning, as G-R jumped out to a 13-0 lead and blitzed the Tigers with strong attacking play. It took South Hardin until the score was 22-8 to wake up and get back into the game. In fact, it turned into a bit of a sweat for the Rebels as the score tightened up. While G-R won the set 25-17, there was a noticable jolt of positivity from South Hardin and the Tigers got off to a strong start in set three.

Kelley said the volleyball being played by the Rebels and Tigers was great to watch.

“It’s so much fun,” Kelley said. “I feel like sometimes I don’t have to do as much coaching just because they can coach themselves, they learn from their mistakes and they adjust on the court.”

The third set was hard-fought, but the Rebels were behind for the whole of it. Despite a fightback from 24-19 to tie the game, late errors cost G-R and South Hardin had life. The willingness to fight despite losing the set helped G-R close the game out, Kelley said.

G-R’s strong attack was led by senior Saari Kuehl. Kuehl recorded 19 kills and was particularly present in the third and fourth sets in big moments. Megan Cooley contributed 14 kills of her own (she also led the team with two solo blocks) and as a team the Rebels had 51. Emma McClintock was once again the metronome of the attack, assisting 42 times throughout the match.

Kuehl said the fightback in set three was crucial.

“We were fighting really hard and we just didn’t pull through,” Kuehl said. “But we knew we could keep fighting and end up with the win.”

Kuehl was heavily involved on defense as well, tying Alyssa Morgan for most digs with 36 apiece. Mahayla Olson got 11 and the Rebels had 107 as a team.

In the fourth set, G-R held leads of 16-13 and 23-21, sitting two points away from the win. The Tigers tied the game out of a timeout, but with two quick kills, the Rebels made history and gave themselves a big boost heading into postseason play.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck plays a tournament this Saturday in Algona.