CONRAD - Clutching red roses and a green banner, the Grundy Center volleyball team began to chant.
"On to state! On to state!"
Judging by their smiles, they'll probably be reciting those words until they're blue in the face.
Rarely slowed, never stopped and always attacking, the Spartans earned the Class 2A Region 5 crown and a berth to the Iowa Girls' State High School Volleyball tournament with a three-game sweep of Gladbrook-Reinbeck on Tuesday night in front of a packed gym at BCLUW High School.
"Words can't even explain it. It's amazing," said Grundy Center senior Abby Graves, holding tight to the Regional Champion banner. "I got goose bumps. I'd never had a bigger adrenaline rush."
No. 7 Grundy Center (37-5) powered through the Rebels (26-10) using a balanced and lethal attack, 25-21, 25-10, 25-17.
Four Spartans had six or more kills and sophomore setter Heather Hook tallied 31 assists.
"They're just stacked. They've got great athletes, and we just knew we had to put our blocks up and take their offense away, and we just didn't do that," said G-R head coach Marcia Koester. "We knew that they were going to be tough all night long, and we couldn't have mental breakdowns, and we had mental breakdowns tonight."
"They're a great ball team," she added. "But when you get to this point you have two good teams, and the better team won tonight."
Sarah Frisch had six kills while both Meghan Krausman and Sam Meyers notched nine, but leading the way was the Spartans' lone senior, Graves, with a match-best 11 kills, including the evening's final thunderous spike that sends Grundy Center to its first state tournament since 2004.
"She was pumped up - you could see it in her eyes - she was going after it," said Spartans head coach Darwin Sents of Graves' region-championship kill.
"Abby is a senior on a mission, and that's what you need to be in this point and time. You need your seniors to play."
After the Spartans took game one, 25-21, in a tooth-and-nail battle, Graves did just that to help Grundy Center to a runaway victory in the middle game.
Her jump serve kept the Rebels off-balance and allowed the Spartans to reel off 12 consecutive points and take a commanding 16-2 lead.
"The second game our serve-receive just broke down," said Koester.
It also proved to be problematic in the third game as well.
Despite staring into an 0-2 hole against a top 10 team, the Rebels were not content to just go quietly into the offseason in the third set.
They battled the Spartans point-for-point and took a 14-10 lead after a kill from Emily Stoakes and a Grundy Center error, but a kill from Graves gave the serve to Meyers, and she was certainly in no hurry to return it to Gladbrook-Reinbeck.
The sophomore tallied two aces as she served up nine straight points to push the Spartans back on top, 20-14.
"Once we got Sam back there serving and scored a few points," said Sents, "just all of a sudden they're like 'It's happening, we know it's happening, all we have to do is finish it now.'"
A G-R service error, a kill from Krausman and a pair from Meyers gave way to Graves' swing that ended the any chance of a Rebel comeback.
"We had a really good season," said Koester, who will lose seniors Shannon Boyle, Jill Schildroth and Rachael Cheeseman.
"We've had a terrific season."
Stoakes had a Rebel-best six kills with Jenna Roeding and Boyle both registering four and Schildroth adding 17 assists on the night. Addi Kickbush had 8 digs and Erin Wentzien seven.
But in the end the Rebels simply couldn't slow a Spartans team that got into a flow and stayed there, posting three different runs of eight points or better.
"If you can find rhythm and you keep things going, (opponents) have to do something to stop that then," said Sents, whose mother-in-law provided roses for the victorious Spartans following the contest. "I thought the girls did a nice job of hanging onto the rhythm, just kept it going."
They'll keep it going all the way to Cedar Rapids where the Spartans will try for a state title for the fourth time in school history, with all of those appearances coming under Sents' direction.
Grundy Center faces old rival Dike-New Hartford in the Class 2A quarterfinals Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Cedar Rapids.
"It is fun to be back," he said.
After watching the Spartans hug, chant and smile all over the BCLUW court, nobody would have guessed it felt any different.