West Branch had to wait a long time for its first trip to the state volleyball tournament.
The Bears notched the first state tournament appearance in school history last season, falling to Council Bluffs St. Albert in the opening round.
The wait to get back to state hasn’t been nearly as long for West Branch, but it certainly has to feel that way for this year’s squad.
“The girls that have been to state really enjoyed it. It was a great experience for us and they want to feel that again,” West Branch coach Josh Lukavsky said. “They’ve been waiting a long time to have an opportunity to get back there.”
The Class 2A No. 11-rated Bears have had a lot of waiting to do lately.
West Branch had a bye in the opening round and hasn’t played a match in 12 days.
The Bears last played Oct. 17 when they downed North Cedar in straight sets to earn the overall River Valley Conference title in the first year of the conference.
West Branch will finally get back on the court at 7 p.m. when they host Pekin (11-10) in the Region 8 quarterfinals.
“Obviously, our first goal was to improve every day out and work hard, and then we were looking at defending our conference championship from the year past, and then our big long-term goal was getting back to the state tournament,” Lukavsky said. “I think our girls have really done a good job of getting better daily.”
At 24-7, West Branch already has lost more matches this season than it did all of last year, but has navigated through a grueling schedule.
Of those seven losses, only two have come to unranked teams and West Branch avenged both of those losses, to Western Dubuque and Hudson, later in the season.
The Bears have lost five matches to teams ranked in the top nine in their respective classes, including 2-1 loses to 5A top 10 foes Johnston (No. 5) and Pleasant Valley (No. 8).
“Our schedule has really worked out well for us,” Lukavsky said. “We’ve really had a pretty big grind the past two weeks and even though we lost a few matches, they were all to bigger schools or ranked teams. We competed in all of those and had our chances to win each of them so I think our girls understand that and are using it as a springboard forward.”
Regina (16-11) won its postseason opener last Tuesday over Highland and will travel to Iowa Valley (20-7) tonight.
If the Regals can defeat Iowa Valley tonight, they would have home court advantage in the regional semifinal and final.
“We talked about it the first day of practice, the first day of camp,” Regina coach Megan Eskew said of reaching the semifinals of the regional that Regina is hosting. “That has been our goal all year, that is what we talk about every day is the postseason. Our major goal has been right now.”
To get past Iowa Valley, Regina will likely need another big match from senior Tori Owens.
Owens had 22 kills in the Regals’ three-set win over Highland and ranks third in 2A in kills per set at 5.09.
“Like we’ve done all year, we haven’t really focused on other teams and how to react. We kind of want teams to react to our game,” Eskew said. “We’ve talked about what certain hitters will do, but it’s mostly focusing on our side.”