It has been a year since Solon dropped a five-set heartbreaker to Charles City in the championship game of the 2012 Class 4A volleyball tournament.
A year and two days to be exact, not that Solon senior libero Rylee Smith needs any reminders.
“I think about it every day,” Smith said of the runer-up finish. “Every day since last year we’ve thought about it.”
Solon led two sets to none in last year’s title match before Charles City rallied to win the final three sets, including a 15-13 win in state title-clinching fifth set.
The Spartans will be trying to make the disappointment of last year’s title game loss a distant memory when they open the 2013 Class 4A state tournament at 4 p.m. today against Indianola.
“It’s been talked about a lot,” senior Vik Meade said. “We’ve talked about getting back to state and finishing it ever since last year ended.”
The Spartans (31-2) enter state tournament play as hot as any team in 4A and riding a 14-match winning streak in which they have dropped just one set.
Solon, which is making its third straight state tournament appearance, hasn’t lost since falling to 4A state qualifier West Delaware on Oct. 10 and has won 28 straight sets dating back to Oct. 12.
The Spartans won six straight sets in regional play to reach state and didn’t have a single set decided by fewer than seven points.
“Sometimes, it’s expected when you go to state a few times but it was never like that with this team,” Smith said. “We put the work in.”
The goal for Solon is simple: put a state championship banner in the gym next to last year’s runner-up banner.
“That flag hangs in our gym every day,” Solon coach Peter Gustin said. “It’s always in sight and that is the one that we want to replace. We want to put one that is just a little bit better there and I think we have the crew to do it.”
The first hurdle for Solon is an Indianola team that features Iowa recruit Kaylee Smith at setter.
The Indians are making their first state tournament appearance since 1999 and enter today’s opening round with a 13-match winning streak.
Juniors Kayla and Kristina Quijano headline the Indianola attack.
Kayla has a team-best 223 kills while Kristina has added 189 kills this season while Smith has 625 assists.
The Solon attack is led by a pair of juniors with state tournament experience.
Jordan Smith and Jordan Runge combined for 76 kills at last year’s state tournament and Smith posted a match-high 22 in the title game loss.
The 6-foot-0 Runge leads Solon with 264 kills this season while Smith has added 255 kills and 58 ace serves.
Rylee Smith, a member of the 4A all-tournament team last year, has a team-high 387 digs this season.
Junior Taylor Nearad leads Solon with 753 assists.
“We look at it all the time, the start of practice usually,” Rylee Smith said of the runner-up banner. “It’s definitely a motivation factor for us.”