EARLVILLE – For almost 12 years, the Newark volleyball team had a stranglehold on the Little Ten Conference when it comes to regular-season competition with 92 consecutive league victories.
That ended Tuesday when Earlville handed the Norsemen their first regular-season conference loss since 2009 with a 25-17, 25-23 victory in front of a raucous home crowd.
Veteran Earlville coach Tonya Scherer also was the last to defeat Newark late in the fall of 2009 when she guided the Earlville-Leland co-op to victory over the Norsemen.
“We’ve been talking all season so far about wanting to be at the top of the conference and especially having to beat Newark in order to accomplish that,” Scherer said. “The girls were so ready to play tonight because Newark has had that incredible streak of wins and been the best team in the conference for so long, so this victory is very special for us. I can hardly remember the last one so long ago.”
The Norsemen were playing without senior all-conference hitter Megan Williams, who missed the match because of illness.
Still, the defending Class 1A champions couldn’t contend with the excellent play of the hosts and a lack of consistent execution overall helped see their long held LTC dominance come to a close.
“There’s no excuse for the way we played tonight and not having Megan wasn’t the reason we lost the match,” said veteran Newark coach Tonya Grayson. “We just weren’t ready to go. We didn’t execute in all facets of the game and Earlville was clearly better than us, so credit to them. The winning streak was nice and something we’ll always be proud of, but that doesn’t change the fact that we just didn’t perform the way I know we can even without one of our key players.”
Earlville (10-2, 4-0 LTC) started off strong, building an early 7-4 lead in the opening set.
But Newark (9-2, 3-1) reeled off five consecutive points off the left-handed serve of junior Grace Thrall (eight points, three aces, four kills) to go up, 9-7.
After a middle kill by senior Alexis Olson (four kills, 11 digs) that cut the gap to one, her sophomore sister, Mady Olson (12 points), stepped to the service line and rallied with 11 serving points, including an ace that put the Red Raiders ahead, 19-9, before they eventually closed out the opening set.
“I’ve never had a serving run like that, and all the intensity in our gym really helped get me through it,” Mady Olson said. “To go off and get a huge lead like that against Newark really set us up to win the first game, and we had all the momentum from there.”
Indeed the Red Raiders did, bolting to an 11-4 lead in the second set after consecutive aces by sophomore Brooklyn Guelde.
But the Norsemen embarked on an 18-8 run to go on top, 22-19, after an ace by Thrall and a middle kill off the hands of senior K.J. Friestad (four kills, one block).
Earlville was undeterred, however, in its mission of breaking Newark’s streak, recording the last six of seven points when Alexis Olson put away a laser beam winner from the middle on match point.
“Being able to get that kill to win was huge for me, especially knowing we finally broke Newark’s streak,” Alexis Olson said. “This was such a big win for us and our program.”
Adding to Earlville’s winning mix was senior Brynn Guelde (eight kills) and senior Emma Benson (16 assists).
Newark also received contributions from senior Lindsey Hatteberg (five kills) and sophomore Lauren Ulrich (17 assists).