Kill efficiency up and so is balance for No. 2 Gehlen spikers
LE MARS, Iowa | Statistically speaking, one of Katie Peters’ numbers is down, yet another is up.
A returning Class 1A first-team all-state middle hitter, the 6-foot Le Mars Gehlen senior will be hard-pressed to match the 351 kills she recorded for last season’s 29-7 squad that reached the 1A state tournament finals.
Yet, she doesn’t mind.
Peters paces a balanced attack with 130 kills for Coach Mike Meyer’s No. 2-ranked Jays. She welcomes the offensive balance and is pleased with her .406 kill efficiency.
“Our kill efficiency as a team is very high,” said Peters. “It’s impressive because we’ve played tough teams. It means every time we get the ball, we put it away instead of making hitting errors. You can get the job done that way.”
Gehlen (20-3) has not only recorded its 11th consecutive 20-win season. Meyer, who has guided eight of his previous nine teams to the Class 1A state tournament, has a squad that entered October slugging .367.
The last time Gehlen sported kill efficiency like this was the 2011 team that went 34-2 and fell to Tripoli in the 1A state finals. Not only did the Jays hit .322 that season, they too were balanced with three players recording 160 or more kills and each of the three, paced by former Briar Cliff outside Katelin Langel, hit well over .300.
“Ironically, (Peters) isn’t getting as many swings per game as she did a year ago,” said Meyer. “Her kills per game are down due to the balance we have. I’m OK with that because her hitting efficiency is higher. For me, that is a more important number because it tells how often you get kills.
“We’ve only had two teams here in my (13) years here where we’ve hit over .300 and one of those was one of the top teams in the state. We’re just really attacking well. We’re getting a lot of balance. A lot of different people have had solid hitting nights for us. You don’t have that without good ball control. Our setters have done a good job, offensively.”
According to Meyer, Peters (1,006 career kills), a player with collegiate potential, came in as a freshman ready to perform. She began her career with 235 kills for the 29-7 team of 2015 and has been a four-year regular along with classmate Brooklyn Heissel (84 kills), an outside hitter whose kill totals have improved each year.
Senior middle hitter Katelyn Langel has 119 kills and an off-the-charts .589 rate. Heissel (84 kills) and junior right side/setter Sydney Livermore (75 kills) may not be near .300, but they appreciate the reasons behind Gehlen’s attack accuracy.
Livermore (198 assists) plays the right side when senior Anna Britt (223 assists) takes her turn on the rotation as a setter. Still, it’s not only the setting, it’s the passing from the back row, paced by junior libero Chloe Bunkers (144 digs).
Peters and Heissel are each all-around players. Peters has 111 digs while Heissel has 94.
“Without ball control, you can’t get the sets and the hits,” said Heissel. “Ball control is a big area for us. Chloe is a really good leader. Her sister (Carly Bunkers) was libero my freshman year when I played back row, so I’ve learned from Chloe and Carly. Carly is good at reading where the hitters are when they hit. She’s an amazing passer.”
“I don’t think we would have been where we were last year without Carly,” said Peters. “We wouldn’t have gotten to the championship if it wasn’t for her passing and her digging. She’s very motivated. She wants to get touches.”
Great fundamental volleyball has also enabled two more Jays to hit over .300, senior Aubree Nilles (42 kills, .352) and junior Kate Hill (41, .370). Sophomore right side Rachel Langel (28 kills), who completes the rotation, isn’t far off the pace at .289.
“Balance is something we strive for, honestly,” said Meyer. “If you attack only the middle, it puts a tremendous amount of burden on ball control and the setter. It requires a pinpoint pass to the middle, then you have to be strong in transition. We have a lot of passers back, which allows us to move ball, so people can’t concentrate on one or two kids.”
“I’m really glad all of our hitters can get swings,” said Peters. “Sometimes there is (pressure), when that big block is there and they’re going to you and you know you have to put the ball down. It really helps to know that even if the pass isn’t great, we can go to the outside and someone will get the job done.”