SIDNEY, Iowa — When Sidney volleyball coach Amy McClintock learned her team would be up moving up from Class 1-A to 2-A, she knew some things were going to be a little different this year.
The tempo would have to be faster, and the passes more precise. The defense would have to be sharper, and the focus tighter across the board.
Young and experienced players alike would have to step up and reach a new level if the Cowgirls were going to sustain their success, because after making back-to-back state tournament appearances, she knew the road back to Cedar Rapids was going to be tougher than ever.
“(Class) 2-A is a tough volleyball class,” McClintock said while her team went through drills during a practice at Sidney High School last week. “Especially in this area.”
With the postseason just around the corner, her players are well aware of that, too. They’ve heard it from their coach all season long.
“It’s, like, every day at practice,” junior Jaden Daffer said with a laugh. “Whenever we mess up ….”
“We know what speech is coming,” junior and coach’s daughter Camryn McClintock said. “She’ll be like, ‘You guys are 2-A this year.’ We have to work on staying consistent, and she’ll tell us about all the tougher teams and how everyone else is working harder at practice — and that’s what we have to do, too.”
Thus far, the fifth-ranked Cowgirls have done exactly what they’ve needed to do to stay a state contender in a larger class. They’re 23-3 on the year and a perfect 6-0 in the Corner Conference without dropping a set.
In recent years, Sidney has had a stranglehold on the Corner. Whereas other top 2-A squads like Council Bluffs St. Albert, Treynor and Tri-Center are regularly tested in conference play, the Cowgirls haven’t lost a conference match since 2014.
“Sometimes our best competition is here in practice,” Amy McClintock said, “so we have to make sure we keep the level of energy up.”
The Cowgirls’ losses have come at tough weekend tournaments specifically scheduled to challenge the team and measure its progress. No. 4 St. Albert twice took them down in three sets early in the season at Clarinda, and 3-A No. 9 Red Oak topped them in a pair of competitive sets at the Tigers’ loaded home tournament.
Since falling in the Red Oak tourney semifinals, the Cowgirls have won 25 sets in a row. When regional pairings came out this week, Sidney — the eighth-smallest school in 2-A — was rewarded with the top seed of Region 4. The largest school in the class — No. 13 Clarinda — was put on the opposite of the bracket.
The team’s pursuit of its third straight state berth begins Oct. 24.
“The first time, it was (a lot of) excitement because it was something new for the community and something that no one’s ever done,” Camryn McClintock said. “Trying to keep that up each year gets harder.”
Sidney, which was state runner-up in 2015, lost a pair of starters to graduation after last year’s state quarterfinal exit. The Cowgirls were left with a fairly young but seasoned core.
McClintock, the team’s go-to outside hitter and kills leader (4.06 kills per set), and Daffer, the team’s fiery defensive standout at the libero spot (2.97 digs per set), are both three-year starters.
Middle hitter Kelsey Hobbie (2.69 kills and .52 blocks per set) started as a freshman and has come on strong as her sophomore season has progressed, and sophomore setter Olivia Larsen (8.53 assists per set) has already racked up more than 1,000 career assists in two seasons. Plus, Kelsey Hobbie’s older sister, Cassidy (1.71 kills per set), has been a key contributor for four seasons as an outside hitter.
Senior outside hitter Sarah Daly, sophomore middle hitter Makenna Jarosz and sophomore defensive specialists Maddy Duncan and Presley Brumbaugh are the rest of the team’s regulars.
“We have a lot depth, but we have a of experience as well,” Daffer said, “so I feel like it’s just up to us (to figure out) what we’re capable of.”
Even though the challenge is greater this time around, both Daffer and Camryn McClintock say it doesn’t make them nervous. These girls have played a lot of volleyball together over the years. Between the school team, club and AAU, most of the them play year-round.
However, their success hasn’t been limited to volleyball.
This past winter, Camryn McClintock and Duncan both played prominent roles in the girls basketball team’s first-ever state berth. Duncan placed sixth in the 400-meter dash in May, and the softball team ruled the Corner for the second straight summer.
Will that winning trend continue this postseason?
“I don’t think we’ve played our best volleyball (yet), and I think the girls would say that they probably haven’t, either,” Amy McClintock said. “They’re pretty mentally strong and they’ve been in that position before, so we’re excited to see how it comes out.”