REINBECK - The feeling hit Gladbrook-Reinbeck early.
That wave of uncertainty? It's better known as a 'Maroon Monsoon.'
The Class 2A No. 4 Grundy Center volleyball team made certain to secure its third straight NICL West Division championship on Tuesday night, denying the host Rebels a share of the honor with a 25-10, 25-8, 25-6 triumph in front of a capacity crowd.
The victory marked Grundy Center's 19th straight in NICL West play, and the Spartans (37-1, 7-0) ran their consecutive conference games mark to 49 in a row.
As innocuous as those numbers are once a match starts, the Spartans still hold them close to use as motivation.
"It's a big deal, we take every game serious," said Grundy Center senior middle hitter Sarah Frisch. "In years previous, if we drop a game it was no big deal. Now we've got something to protect and we're making a statement, working our way down to state and proving that we're supposed to be there."
The Rebels' hopes of tripping up Grundy Center in the conference finale were predicated on the principle that the Spartans could be beaten in three sets in the same night. They've lost three sets all season (82-3).
"It's awesome, (conference) is always a big goal, the kids take it really serious night-in and night-out," said Grundy Center head coach Darwin Sents. "Some of the nights we don't have our finest games but we always managed to win, didn't drop a set the whole year, so that's just a real statement by the girls.
"There's some really good competition in the conference and to come out with every game and not drop one, that's pretty good because we're getting everybody's best shot."
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (17-11, 5-2) still stands alone in second place in the final conference standings, but the Rebels could not get it going on this night. G-R won only three points on serve, meaning the Rebels put together back-to-back points only thrice all match.
"It's really hard because they don't have a weak spot on the team so we have to go at them, and tonight we didn't have the sets and the hits to go at them," said Rebels head coach Marcia Koester. "That's what you have to do when you play a team like this, you've got to put it back at them and hope they make mistakes, and they're not a team to make mistakes."
Grundy Center had only five service errors in the match, and the most efficient hitting team in the state (in all classes) seemed unstoppable at the net.
Meghan Krausman posted a match-high 12 kills to lead the Spartans, using the tip on occasion from the middle to offset some of her high-powered blasts from the outside. Sam Meyers had eight kills, nine digs and was 14-for-15 serving with two aces.
Frisch and Riley Ackerman added five kills apiece, Katie McMartin added four and setter Heather Hook snuck in two dinks to go with her 27 assists as the Spartans kept the NICL West crown all to themselves.
"That's a big deal to us, we work hard so we feel like it's ours," said Frisch. "We feel like we work harder than anyone so we want it for ourselves. We've put in the work and the time so we want it all."
Meyers had four blocks and Frisch two to lead the Spartan defense at the net. Riley Sents served 16-for-17 with four aces and had a team-high 11 digs. Hook and Carissa Sternhagen both added eight digs and Sarah Johns seven as Grundy Center won its 15th straight match.
"We're offensive, no doubt about that, we've got girls who can hit the ball," Coach Sents said, "but I think what gets overlooked a little bit is the defense. G-R had some nice swings and we just played them up no problem. They had some tips we turned into free balls and ran plays back at them.
"Our defense really does a great job and our front row takes care of the ball very well. They can hit hard and they keep everybody on their heels. It's a balanced group."
Gladbrook-Reinbeck, meanwhile, managed to dig up a few Spartan swings but could not turn them around into an attacking offense. The Rebels totaled just 16 kills against 23 errors, left with a negative hitting percentage. Emily Stoakes led the team with five kills and seven assists, Jenna Roeding had four kills, and Carrie Shouse added three in just two games. Emily Dinsdale and Erin Wentzien led G-R with six digs apiece.
"Like we told the girls in the locker room, this isn't the tell-all right here," said Koester. "We still have a lot of postseason to play and we can still improve and hopefully we can get to that point that we can be back in that regional final again like last year."
Grundy Center swept the Rebels in last year's 2A regional final in Conrad to advance to the state tournament. The Spartans hope to start their march back to Cedar Rapids next Tuesday when they host BCLUW in the opening round of the postseason.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck closes out its regular season on Thursday night at North Tama. The Rebels return home next Tuesday to host East Marshall in their playoff opener.