Iowa City High volleyball has a dynamic duo of young leaders

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our High School Volleyball Team Preview coverage. Coming Monday: Iowa City Regina.

Iowa City High is known as “the school that leads.”

The Little Hawks volleyball team has spent much of its offseason trying to get to the best place it has been in recent seasons.

While that’s a lot easier said than done, coach Tricia Carty said her team is on the right track because of their unwavering commitment to improvement.

“What’s so exciting to me is that we have the potential to be really competitive and work extremely hard to be able to play anyone on our schedule,” Carty said. “Our kids are all very hard working, which has made it really enjoyable for me to come and help our players, whether junior or college, grow every day.”

Back to 2021

Finishing with a 20-15 record, the Little Hawks played some of their best volleyball late in the season. They have won six of their last 10 games, including a win over Southeast Polk in the Class 5A Region 4 semifinals.

However, they couldn’t get the better of Ankeny, who beat them in the next round.

The loss ended the terms of seven seniors, including Makayla Ribble, who had been a starter for four years and led the team in aces and assists.

New additions

Juniors Haleigh Nelson and Sidney Slay are expected to fill some of the spots left by the aforementioned seniors.

Slay will have her work cut out for her as she tries to take over from Ribble at the setter position.

Nelson will play defensive specialist and libero, positions filled by seniors last season.

Although neither player had much experience at the college level, the second Emmy McComas said she expected great things from both.

“Haleigh Nelson works hard every practice,” McComas said. “Sidney Slay is a very good passer as well as on the right side.”

Potential wild cards

With weeks still separating the Little Hawks from their first game of the season, it gave them time to try to sort out the best players to put in the starting rotation.

While some places seem sewn, the fight for the position of starting setter is still up for grabs.

While it seems like the team isn’t sure who will take on the role, whoever wins the spot will be a vital part of the team’s success.

Key game this season

Just as the Iowa City West Trojans have expressed excitement over the chance to play City High, the Little Hawks are also eager to take them on.

Although the Little Hawks won the “Battle for the Spike” game last year, it was the Trojans who had the last laugh after defeating them in the MVC tournament.

Hoping to get their revenge when they meet again on October 4, Carty said it will always be a tough game for both teams.

“The games are intense, but a lot of fun because it never seems like either team has a decisive advantage,” Carty said. “Anything can happen, so it’s all about who can best handle the pressure and execute in those situations.”

The reasons for optimism

Even though volleyball is a team game, it never hurts to have star players that a coach can rely on. For City High, those players are juniors Claire Ernst and McComas.

Last season, the duo combined for 546 kills and 49 aces, despite being underclass.

As impressive as their seasons have been, they have a chance to be even better in 2022, especially as the duo do their best to carry over their chemistry to the rest of the squad.

“We focused a lot on building teams,” Ernst said. “I think it will show when we get on the pitch because everyone can tell how well we work together.”

Not only that, but, according to Carty, the team is in a position to enjoy its first “normal” offseason since the COVID-19 pandemic.

This allowed the Little Hawks to hold their usual two-day practice and training sessions with far fewer restrictions, further allowing the coaching staff to better develop their players.

Fans will get their first chance to see how far the team has come on August 23, when City High hosts the Cedar Rapids Kennedy Cougars.

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