A couple of historic seasons for Union area teams led to four of the All-Union volleyball team members being WACO Warriors and Winfield-Mount Union’s Jenna Buffington as the captain.
While it seemed easy to assemble the team members, the coach selection was another story. Only one area team made the state tournament and that was New London and Coach Maureen Heath. Only one area team won its first conference title since 1996 and went through a division of the Southeast Iowa Super Conference undefeated and that was Winfield-Mount Union and Coach David Pieart. Only one team achieved success it had never known and had state leaders in nearly every recorded category and took the team farther than it had ever been and that was WACO and Coach Jay Coble. Coble is the selection for the All-Union Coach in 2020.
There were no nights a team could take a match off, not in the South Division which produced the Class 1A state champion Notre Dame Nikes, where longtime perennial powers Holy Trinity Catholic and New London patrol the top of the standings, and where last season’s 2A state qualifier Van Buren County resides. WACO grabbed the division lead at 5-0 and was 21-2 overall with the defeat of the third-ranked Crusaders and climbed to 13th in the rankings. They finished tied at 5-3 in the South with three other teams as New London and West Burlington finished in the lead at 6-2.
Captain: Jenna Buffington, senior, hitter, Winfield-Mt. Union
After missing most of the team’s matches last season due to injury, the 2020 campaign was a chance for Buffington to make up for lost time, and she did that and more.
Buffington returned to the court and slid right back into her place as star hitter for the Wolves. She led the SEISC North Division with 261 kills, 38 above the next best player, and won the North Division’s Player of the Year award.
Buffington was 16th in Class 1A with a kill efficiency of .315. She also finished the season with 125 digs, fourth best for W-MU. She was also one of the best servers in the conference, serving at a 90.1 percent efficiency and a division-leading 52 aces.
The senior-led Wolves went undefeated in North Division play to win the division crown. W-MU lost just one set in the entirety of North Divisoin play and swept Mediapolis on the road to clinch the title. In that game against Mediapolis, Bufington led the way once more with 12 kills and four aces.
Coach Jay Coble, WACO
WACO broke records and the Warriors made history. The 2020 team set new standards for the future expectations of volleyball in Wayland.
Coble was the coach of a dedicated group of WACO players and 11 seniors that had played together since a young age on a variety of club and school teams. That group advanced to the Southeast Iowa Super Conference Tournament for just the second time. The Warriors accomplished a number of milestones for the program. They were ranked by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union for the first time, accumulated more wins than any one could remember in a 26-8 season, defeated Holy Trinity Catholic for a historic victory and reached a regional final for the first time. A loss to the eventual state champions was proof of how good the Warriors talent was applied by Coach Coble.
“The accomplishments are tremendous,” Coble said.
The team was first in Class 1A in blocks with 265, 19 more than second place and second in both serve attempts and serve success, 11th in assists, eighth in kills, ninth in attacks, 20th in efficiency, sixth in digs, 13th in serve efficiency at 93.5 percent and eighth in aces.
Morgan Graber, senior, hitter, WACO
In their quest to be the best, the Warriors beat the best. In the defeat of No. 3 Holy Trinity, Graber finished the night with 22 kills, 10 in the third set alone. That win boosted WACO to its best ranking at No. 14 and colored the Warriors as the favorite in the division in 2020.
Graber was the bellwether of the Warriors and she led by example. Behind Graber and her division-leading 356 kills, sixth best in Class 1A, WACO stormed to an eye-opening season briefly derailed by sickness. Graber was eighth in the class in attacks. She had 43 blocks and 85 digs.
Keaura Williams, sophomore, hitter, New London
It was a magical year for the New London volleyball team, which punched its first ticket to the state tournament since 2014. The Tigers’ front line played a huge role in that result, and Williams was the stand out player at the net.
On a team that finished with five hitters in triple digits for kills, Williams led them all. She ended the year with 222 kills on a .233 kill efficiency. She was also third on the team in blocks, with 48, and tallied 42 digs on the season.
At the service line, Williams was on of the best in Southeast Iowa. She finished tied for fifth in the SEISC South Divisoin with a 97.5 percent serve efficiency and finished the year with 22 aces.
The co-SEISC South champion Tigers will bring a good amount of talent next season. Williams will be a key piece on a New London team that will be one of the favorites to finish at the top once again.
Aubri Garnsey, senior, libero, WACO
When a team is trying to hammer the kills, Garnsey epitomized a slang term in volleyball by digging nails. Garnsey was better than good this season, the “best libero in the area” according to Coach Coble.
Garnsey refused to let anything hit the floor going sideline to sideline, and seemingly got to everything. Garnsey eclipsed the school record for digs in a career, hitting a 1,000 early in the year, and was second in Class 1A with 474.
She was first in 1A in landing aces, placing 76 of them and was also fifth in serving success in the class, and had 124 assists.
Kyra Linkin, senior, libero, New London
The New London volleyball teams always seem to have a stellar back line, and this year was no different. The Tigers couldn’t have finished their season at the state tournament without libero Linkin.
Linkin led the Tigers with 458 digs on the season, third best in the South Division. Her efforts helped propel New London into fifth in Class 1A in total digs.
Linkin had a solid year serving the ball, finishing the season with a 96.1 percent serve efficiency and tallying eight aces.
New London just had three seniors in its regular rotation, but every one of them will be nearly impossible to replace. Linkin finished her career at New London with over 1,000 digs, and was part of a squad that helped the Tigers get back to state for the first time in six years.
Grace Coble, sophomore, setter, WACO
Far and away the leading setter in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference South Division, Coble delivered time and time again for the Warriors. She put up 700 assists in the season that saw WACO achieve new heights as Coble put the pass on the proper apex for her teammates to deliver the kill. The 700 assists total was 55 more than the South’s second-place Macy Watkins of Central Lee. It was also the eighth best total in Class 1A. Her total was more impressive considering she missed three of her team’s matches during the season and it was her first year as the starting setter. She also had 86 kills, 31 blocks and 25 aces.
Isabel Manning, senior, setter, Van Buren County
If there was a spot that just said “utility,” VBC senior Manning would play it. After helping lead the team to the Class 2A state tournament last season as a libero, manning made the switch to the setter position in 2020, and she thrived in the new role.
Manning finished the year with 419 assists, which was sixth in the South Division. She led the Warriors with 31 blocks, finished fourth on the team with 132 digs and even sprinkled in 40 kills, landing fifth on the squad in that category.
As if all that wasn’t impressive enough, she was also the best server on the VBC roster. Manning ended the year with a 97.3 percent serve efficiency and 28 aces.
Manning’s storied career ended two games shy of the state tournament this year, but she will still be remembered as one of the key pieces during a golden era of VBC volleyball.