A fantastic finish resulted in one of the best seasons in the history of the North Polk volleyball program in 2013 as the Comets came within one win of reaching the state tournament for the first time.
North Polk entered the season having to fill the shoes of a large senior class that led last year’s team to a 20-10 record. But thanks to a great hitting attack and the emergence of talented young players at setter and in the back row, the Comets managed to raise the bar this fall.
"This season just kept getting better and better," North Polk head coach Susan Nemmers said. "We talked a lot about using each competition as an opportunity to get better, with the goal to make a run at getting to the state tournament. As coaches we could see early on that this group had the ability to have a great season. We kept telling them to believe in themselves and their teammates and find the courage to make it happen."
The end result was a 6-3 finish in the Heart of Iowa Conference and a 24-10 overall record.
North Polk set seven team records and tied the 1992 team for the most single-season victories in school history. The Comets also put up seven individual records on the year.
Nearly all of North Polk’s setbacks came against ranked teams or larger schools. The Comets opened the season by defeating three ranked teams (Bondurant-Farrar, Harris-Lake Park and Davis County) at the Bondurant-Farrar Invitational and they added a win over another ranked foe at the Ballard Invitational in Grandview Park Baptist.
After the Ballard tournament everything started clicking for the Comets. They won 13 of their next 14 matches, including nine straight to reach the Class 3A regional finals, before bowing out to eventual state runner-up Kuemper Catholic.
During its hot streak to close out the season, North Polk was able to knock off top-10 2A power and defending 1A state runner-up Grundy Center to win the Oskaloosa Invitational.
The Comets avenged an early loss to Gilbert by topping the Tigers twice down the final stretch. They also earned got back at Roland-Story by topping the Norse in regional play after losing the HOIC match-up between the two teams.
The biggest victory of the season came in 2A regional semifinal play in Lake View. North Polk went up against an East Sac County team that ended the regular season ranked No. 7 in 3A and the Comets completely dominated the match, winning by a sweep.
"It was so much fun to see our team get better each match in the second half of the season," Nemmers said. "The girls made an amazing run and I could not be more proud of this team and the way they came together, fulfilled roles for the good of the team and played with so much courage."
Nemmers knew she had a strong hitting team coming back. But it was other areas of play that were the big difference makers this fall.
"After 2012 I had anticipated that one of the biggest areas we would need to work on was our team defense, but it ended up that defense was one of our strengths," Nemmers said. "Serve receive was another strength. I have a few girls that really excel at this and toward the end of the season we worked hard to position them in places where they would take the majority of serves and they excelled when given the opportunity."
And even though Nemmers knew the attack was going to be strong, she was pleased with how diversified it became.
"We were able to attack the ball aggressively from all positions on the court," Nemmers said. "We liked to mix up our offense with the goal of throwing off the defense on the other side of the net."
For the season North Polk had 929 kills and 471 errors on 3,267 attacks in 95 sets. The Comets compiled a .140 kill-efficiency rate and 9.78 kills per set.
On defense North Polk averaged 16.75 digs and 2.38 blocks per set, totaling 1,591 digs and 226 blocks. The Comets tallied a serving rate of .903 with 193 aces – an average of 2.03 per set.
Outside hitters Megan Murphy and Lilly Lomica were the top all-around performers for North Polk this season.
Murphy – a senior – paced the team in kills with 236 on a .137 kill-efficiency rate. She also had 256 digs, 33 aces on a 94-percent serving rate and 31 blocks.
Lomica slammed home 182 kills on a .123 efficiency rate and she was the Comet lead in digs with 349 – an average of 3.67 per set. Lomica also tallied 30 aces on an 88-percent serve rate and she picked up 24 blocks.
Senior Jill Christensen was another versatile weapon at right-side hitter.
Christensen finished with 117 kills on a .120 efficiency rate. She also had 241 digs, 52 assists, 26 blocks and 25 aces.
Senior Miranda Murphy and freshman Hannah Becker gave North Polk a formidable tandem at middle blocker.
Miranda – Megan’s twin sister – finished with 188 kills on an efficiency rate of .188 and she led the team in blocks with 67. Becker posted 164 kills on a team-high .214 efficiency rate and she added 64 blocks.
Gracie Harmeyer also made big impact as a freshman.
Taking over the setting duties from all-conference performer Rebecca Sieve, Harmeyer dished out 612 assists – 8.38 per set – and also tallied 160 digs, 14 kills and eight blocks. Harmeyer also served at a 93-percent clip with 27 aces.
Junior Morgyn Bullock occupied the libero spot most of the season.
Bullock was second on the team in digs with 324 and she led in digs per set with an average of 4.0. She also handed out 112 assists and served at an 86-percent clip with a team-high 43 aces.
Also seeing quality playing time in the back row was freshman Courtney Bonewitz. Bonewitz finished with a 151 digs in 77 sets and she also went 168 of 181 serving with 13 aces.
Junior Madison Nelson helped out the team in serving as she went 51 of 56 with eight aces. Nelson also contributed 17 assists and 12 digs.
Freshman Rebecca Rimathe was 32 of 36 with two aces and senior Kaylee Wolfe went 13 of 17 with an ace. Rimathe tacked on 30 digs and Wilson contributed 11.
Next season it won’t be easy to replace the Murphy twins and Christensen.
"This is the first group to graduate that I coached as freshmen, so they will always be special," Nemmers said. "I will miss their leadership and love for the game and competition."
But even with those crucial losses there is enough talent coming back to give the Comets hopes of another deep postseason run in 2014.
"Although we have some major gaps in our lineup I know that there will be girls ready to take the opportunity to fill their spots," Nemmers said. "Many girls will be working hard in the offseason gaining playing experience. I’m excited about the returning starters and the leadership they will be able to provide with their experience."