You might look at Lake Mills’ 43-0 record and Carroll Kuemper’s 32-5 mark and wonder why the unbeaten team is rated sixth while the Knights are rated third.
It’s all about competition.
Kuemper has played 15 matches against state-rated teams, winning 10. Lake Mills has yet to play any of the 70 teams in the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s final rankings.
“Hopefully that will give us a little edge,” Kuemper coach Keith Stickrod said.
Kuemper will meet the Bulldogs in a Class 2-A state quarterfinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Despite his team’s stronger schedule, Stickrod expects Lake Mills to be a handful. The Bulldogs have won 102 consecutive regular-season matches, and they’ve swept all but six opponents this season.
They return three starters from the team that beat Council Bluffs St. Albert at state last year and bowed out in the 2-A semifinals to Dike-New Hartford.
On film, Stickrod sees a balanced hitting team, much like his squad. The Bulldogs have eight girls averaging between 1 and 2.6 kills per set, and they run a fast offense.
Kuemper’s top four hitters are 5-foot-10 senior Brandi Bueltel (2.99 kills per set), 5-10 junior Claire Ludwig (2.04), 5-11 junior Hannah Dentlinger (1.97) and 5-11 senior Lexi Albrecht (1.68). The Knights have a gifted setter in junior Morgan Naberhaus (8.5 assists per set), and an athletic libero in junior Karla Knobbe (459 digs).
Beyond the numbers, Stickrod feels his team is ready for the pressure cooker of the state environment.
“I feel like we’re emotionally stronger this year,” he said. “I think we handle the ups and downs a little better. We’re much more balanced, too, at the net.”
A year ago, the Knights were swept in their state opener by Hull Western Christian. A win could give Kuemper a semifinal rematch.
“I think we’d like another shot at them,” Stickrod said. “Last year, we were just excited about getting there. This year we want to do more, take home at least a win or two.”
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