INDIANOLA, Iowa – Few birthday presents are better than opening up the conference season with a win, and Lana Smith got just that on Wednesday night.
The 15th-year head coach of the Simpson volleyball team saw her squad cruise to a three-set win over Buena Vista (25-16, 25-20, 25-18) in the Iowa Conference opener for both teams.
For Smith, it was a perfect birthday present, especially for a team picked to finish at the bottom of the league.
"It was awesome," Smith said. "Our girls have been playing with the intent of exceeding our expectations, so they wanted to get this one and get it big."
The Storm (8-1, 1-0 Iowa Conference) did just that, employing a dominating defense that held Buena Vista – the league's most efficient attacking team coming into the night – to a .097 hitting percentage. The conference leader in kills per set, Maddie Bardole, managed just six kills and hit .000.
Chelsea Clayton had 12 kills and Jordan Leehy had 27 assists to lead the Beavers (6-3, 0-1), who fell to 9-41 all-time against Simpson.
Simpson's service also caused problems for Buena Vista. Audrey Schuttler recorded three aces as Simpson finished with seven against just four errors.
"It was outstanding," said Smith. "We took them out of any ball control with our tough serving and kept them off-balance. Even the serves we didn't score on, we did a good job of pushing them out of system."
Simpson held big leads in each set, but showed a tendency to let Buena Vista crawl back into contention. In the third set in particular, Simpson held a commanding 24-13 lead before giving up five consecutive points. A service error finally ended the run and the match, but Smith knows her team needs to work on putting teams away.
"One thing we do need to work on is that we do not finish games well," Smith said. "We do really well to get out of the chutes, get the lead, then we don't finish. That's something we'll have to work on, especially in the league."
Coming off a 12-win campaign in 2012, there is a big difference between where the team is right now and where they were at this time a year ago.
"Last year, I felt like we went five sets with absolutely everyone and won the first two and lost the last three," Smith said. "That hasn't been the case this year. Even with as small as we are, I've been very happy with our play up to this point."
Simpson has the weekend off then goes to Decorah to face Luther for its first conference road match of the season on Sept. 23.