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Union standouts shine with rising RedTail volleyball

October 21, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor (editor@dysartreporter.com) , Dysart Reporter

As an attack comes flying over the net, libero Haylee Keune sets her feet and smoothly receives the volley. Keune expertly guides the ball back towards the net, where Maggie Driscol waits for just the right moment for the set she desires. Also in wait is Megan Hudson, as her eyes follow the path of the ball leaving Driscol's hands and up where only Hudson can get to it. With a great leap, Hudson perfectly times a swing she's performed a million times to send the ball back over the net with a ferocity no one on the court can match. The attack results in a kill, one of 20 for Hudson on the night, but also a successful assist for Driscol and a play made possible by Keune's sharp defensive reflexes.

For anyone who has followed Union volleyball in recent years, this would appear to be a Knights volleyball match in La Porte City, or perhaps on the road at Columbus or Dike-New Hartford in the NICL East conference division. All three young women were an integral part of the 2016 3A State Runner-up squad that won 40 games and serve as an inspiration for current Union players two years later. However in this particular case, this is a Hawkeye RedTails volleyball match played against NIACC on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the present year on the Hawkeye Community College campus.

In the program's first year of existence, Coach Scott Weston looks to these three former Union players and other members of the RedTail volleyball squad recruited from across northeast Iowa to make a statement right away with the brand new team. An experienced coach on several different collegiate levels, Weston recruited players already on the Hawkeye campus itself and also got out on the local high school recruiting trail with several factors in mind. He quickly learned the staff didn't have to go out of state for recruiting success as other college teams had been triumphant with Iowa players loaded on their rosters.

Article Photos

Libero Haylee Keune recorded 14 digs against NIACC on Wednesday, Oct. 10. Over the season, Keune has amassed 304 digs, 27 aces in 21 games.

"The quality of the players we were getting locally made it play out so we didn't have to go out of state, which is very rare," Weston said. "We felt better served to have a localized roster for fan purposes and it has worked out to our advantage. They bonded well, knew each other well. In fact, our furthest individual was out from Sigourney."

Weston and his staff were looking for two main things: versatility and coachability at the next level. Not only did he want athletes who would "mesh into multiple positions" but he wanted athletes who would be open to changes which would come early and often with a brand new program. He found two of those players right on campus with Driscol and Hudson, who were among the earliest signees.

"Megan and Maggie have played together since fourth grade, so they have this ability to know where each other is at on the floor at all times," Weston said. "Maggie is our workhorse going after everything and no quit in her whatsoever. Megan is our power hitter and go-to for a point who comes through."

Driscol signed to be a RedTail after initially choosing to hang up her volleyball jersey to focus on her education. A three-year all-conference starter at setter for Union, Driscol notched more than 2,900 assists as a Knight and couldn't say no to the chance of adding on to her impressive resume with a year in college. The sophomore from La Porte has recorded 713 assists in 21 games for the RedTails after being reached out to by Weston and his staff.

"It's been fun because I got be the very first signee for RedTail volleyball," Driscol said. "Everything since we started has been about testing the waters and experimenting with different things. I've never been part of anything brand new like this and it's been fun making this program happen."

Since resuming her volleyball career, Driscol has worked on improving her jump setting more, strengthening her serving and running plays she's not used to under a new coach. While the college game is far quicker and intense in her mind, a sense of comfort comes from having her fellow 2017 classmate and teammate Megan Hudson by her side to set up for another season.

"This experience feels familiar in having Megan on the outside," Driscol said. "I'm comfortable with her and she's comfortable with me setting because we've been doing this together for many years."

Much like Driscol, Hudson enjoyed a successful career at Union, amassing more than 1,600 kills and played in three 3A State tournaments as an outside hitter for the Knights. Unlike her teammate, Hudson had decided to continue her athletic career at Hawkeye with the RedTail track team. Weston approached her about returning to volleyball and the opportunity was too good to pass despite the intimidation of starting a new program with old and new faces.

"This is a really awesome feeling to be with familiar faces we've seen around the volleyball community," Hudson said. "It's great to be able to play volleyball for another year, especially on a successful team. It takes a lot of hard work because we're always seen as the underdog. We had to put in that extra work to show we're a ranked team that can play with anyone."

The RedTails are currently ranked 11th in NJCAA Division II volleyball with a 16-5 record, including 6-1 in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference thanks to Driscol and Hudson's offensive chemistry. However, offense isn't the only factor in close games. Defensive specialists keep opponents from scoring off easy kills and are vital in keeping possessions alive. For former Union standout Haylee Keune, suiting up as the all-important libero means exactly those things and more.

Keune was recruited to the RedTails out of high school as opposed to already living on campus like her older teammates were. After coming off the bench her junior year, Keune established herself as the Knights' leader on defense in her senior year with 345 digs and the ability to create for others with 56 assists as a non-setter, also successfully serving on 339 of 384 attempts and hitting 65 aces to lead the 2017-18 squad. Her success has only continued as she found a role at Hawkeye, recording 304 digs for the RedTails this season.

"The location definitely drew me here, being from La Porte and only 15 minutes away from home," Keune said. "I wanted to stay around my family and learned they were getting volleyball here. I decided this was where I wanted to play."

Even with her defensive prowess, Keune was not immediately selected as the team's starting libero at the beginning of the season, according to Weston.

"Haylee was one of those athletes who we felt fit the position after trying different things," Weston said. "We didn't have her in the libero position to start. Several other girls were in that position and it worked best for Haylee to fill that role. Once we found our combination, each has grown into their positions. Maggie and Megan fit so well together. Add Haylee who played with them, and it all came through."

The RedTails, however, aren't comprised of just these three former Knights by any measure. Weston recruited players who competed at other high school programs such as Tripoli, Jesup and Waterloo East to form his first Hawkeye team.

"It was a lot of time spent diving into the character of the players we wanted," Weston said. "We knew the caliber of the player we wanted, and quite honestly we went out and got them. These girls wanted the opportunity to be a part of ground-level program and opportunity is what our program is about. We tell them we're going to put the best six on the floor who will give us a chance to win games."

Preseason struggles plagued the brand new squad, but dissipated by the time the season began. Issues still occurred over the season like with any other team, but Driscol attributes their success to being able to come together and play together.

"This team as a whole has meshed really well," Driscol said. "On and off the court, we've had a lot of fun together. I knew we had some great athletes, but the best part has been surprising people with how well we've played. We're going to make a statement in the conference and I'm expecting a lot more."

These sentiments are also echoed by Keune, who has enjoyed her season due in part to familiar faces and playing with brand new people.

"It's easier playing on this team along with Maggie and Megan because I enjoy it more having people I've played with in the past," Keune said. "I loved meeting the new people on the team and playing with them. This has been a great experience with us being successful in our first year.I feel a lot of people underestimate us being a first-year program, but we're really showing other teams what we can do."

After making an impression across their conference and against non-conference opponents, the RedTails are no longer being underestimated, even with initial beliefs of being "an underdog" as a program.

"We talked early on about the fact we are a brand new program and we're not going to be expected to do much, but we knew what we could do," Weston said. "Our expectation was to win night in and night out. We knew our squad was good enough to do that. It just came down to our girls believing they could accomplish that goal. They have settled for no less than that, surprising quite a few teams. Now that we're ranked, we have a target on our back, so we have to continue to elevate our play on a nightly basis."

It's not only conference opponents that are taking notice of the RedTails' surprising success, however. Back in La Porte, Union volleyball coach Brian Jesse is currently leading the Knights to another successful year with their record as of Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 27-14 and 7-1 in the NICL East. Even with a busy schedule, Jesse has taken the time to keep tabs on his three former athletes at Hawkeye.

"I've been following them this season, been to a couple of matches and followed them online," Jesse said. "It's great to see all three still competing, especially Maggie and Megan after taking a year off. They are super talented and I'm happy they've each had a chance to continue with a new, successful program."

Llikewise, all three girls Union graduates have returned to their old stomping grounds to watch the Knights this season at one point or another. Driscol especially is a common sight in the stands, cheering on her sister Allie as she plays as the secondary setter for Union this season.

"They are looking a lot better this season," Driscol said. "I've made it to some of the games after practice quickly. It's fun watching Allie on the varsity floor as she improves each year. She wears number four and I wear number four, so everyone thinks she looks like me. It's weird seeing her being the one on the high school court, but it's awesome as well."

Hudson has kept a close eye on her former team as well as her coach who she credits as developing her as a player.

"It's great watching them improve over the year and I've been to a few games between our own and school work," Hudson said. "They have some younger players that will be good to see them improve over their years."

The RedTails will have three more regular season matches before Regional play begins on October 27. Afterwards, each of the three girls have their own individual plans academically and athletically. Driscol plans to attend UNI after graduating from Hawkeye and will again hang up her number four jersey. Hudson is considering several Division I teams to transfer to once she's completed her studies at Hawkeye including North Dakota State, Wichita State, Central Florida and several other universities. Keune will have another year of eligibility at Hawkeye and is considering UNI afterwards for her studies, but is unsure of her athletic future. Each player drew praise from Weston as he continues to lead the RedTails into their very first postseason.

"All three have stepped in and played fantastic volleyball thus far," Weston said. "They know my expectations moving forward and I believe there's are the same. Our goal right now is to lock down that home regional playoff game and they're excited to bring that opportunity here in our first season."

Driscol and Hudson were also recognized in their match against NIACC during an impromptu Sophomore Night. The Hawkeye RedTails will next compete at Marshalltown Community College against Grandview and the host team on Saturday, Oct. 20. Regionals will take place the following weekend. For more information about the program, visit redtailathletics.com.

 
 

 

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