Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
While hitters usually get the shine, a volleyball team can’t be successful without being able to keep the ball off the ground, pass it and set up opportunities.
This season, the Union coverage area was gifted with some of the best defensive specialists and setters in the state of Iowa, and the 2021 All-Union squad reflects it.
The 2021 team is setter-heavy, with three players who started at that position being represented. The captain is a libero.
In a rarity, one class swept the entire 2021 All-Union roster. The squad is made up of all juniors; two each from New London, WMU and Mid-Prairie and one out of WACO.
David Pieart, Winfield-Mount Union
Last year’s WMU volleyball team won 21 games and a Southeast Iowa Super Conference North Division championship, but the Wolves entered 2021 without seven graduated seniors. Pieart’s group still won 22.
Despite having to replace key members of his championship squad from last year, including 2020 All-Union captain Jenna Buffington, Pieart was able to lead his team to a 22-11 year overall. The Wolves were 7-1 in North Division play, good enough for second place.
The Wolves’ biggest win of the year came in the postseason. In the Class 1A Region 7 quarterfinals, WMU earned revenge on North Divison rival Wapello with a five-set win, paying back the Arrows for a loss early in the season that wound up costing the Wolves a second-straight division crown.
WMU was knocked out one round later in the regional semifinals, falling to eventual Class 1A state champion Notre Dame in three sets.
Emma Nye, junior libero, New London
New London’s volleyball program has a strong history of back line players, and Emma Nye stepped up to the plate when she moved into the libero spot in her junior season.
Nye knotched an incredible 655 digs this season, a mark that led Class 1A and was third in the entire state.
Nye was also the top server on New London’s team. She served at a 93.4% efficiency and led the team with 67 aces.
Natalie Burden, junior hitter, New London
When New London needed a kill this season, they trusted nobody more than Natalie Burden.
The rising star had a lot on her shoulders after the Tigers lost four of their Top-5 hitters to graduation, transfer or injury, and she responded with a 342-kill performance this season.
Burden was all over the place for the Tigers, contributing 354 digs, which was second on the team. At the service line, she went for a 91.7% efficiency and 46 aces.
Ella Groenewold, junior hitter, Mid-Prairie
The Mid-Prairie volleyball team had its first winning season since 2008, and Ella Groenewold was a big reason that happened.
Groenewold was strong at the net all year, leading the Golden Hawks with 212 kills. She was electric on the block, finishing the season with 105, fourth-best in the entirety of Class 3A.
Grace Coble, junior setter, WACO
The only player returning to the All-Union squad from last year is WACO’s Grace Coble. Even with the vast majority of the Warriors’ 2020 squad graduated, she stood out as one of the best setup players in the area.
Coble’s 546 assist were fourth in a stacked SEISC South field. She also found a way to finish third on the WACO team in both digs (234) and kills (110), helping her Warriors to a 21-win season.
Keetyn Townsley, junior defensive specialist, Winfield-Mount Union
It was a big responsibility for junior back-row specialist Keetyn Townsley to step up into the libero spot this year, and she met that challenge head on.
Townsley dug out 458 balls this season, earning herself top marks in the SEISC North. She had a big year serving as well, hitting a 94.3% efficiency and sending down 53 aces.
Landry Pacha, junior setter, Mid-Prairie
Another standout junior setter to impress in the Union coverage area this year was Landry Pacha, another huge factor in Mid-Prairie’s winning year.
Pacha was one of three players in the River Valley South division to eclipse 600 assists, finishing the season with 614. She served at a 92.5% efficiency and finished second on the team with 30 aces.
Pacha also found a way to contribute on defense, racking up 149 digs on the year. She sprinkled in 68 kills for good measure.
Keely Malone, junior setter, Winfield-Mount Union
Keely Malone simply did everything for her WMU squad this season.
Malone controlled the offense with an SEISC North Division leading 526 assists, and also finished toward the top in most other categories.
Malone was second on the team in service aces, with 45. She finished fourth on the squad with 127 digs, and ended the year with 75 kills, also fourth on the squad.