Monday, October 24, 2016
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Jim Ecker, President & Editor

Metro Sports Report

Lions nip Saints in MVC thriller

Kangaroos don't jump as much as the Xavier Saints and Linn-Mar Lions did Tuesday night in a spectacular volleyball match at Xavier High School that left both clubs exhausted.

The Lions jumped last and prevailed in a five-set thriller, 25-23, 25-22, 19-25, 33-35, 15-11, in a battle of premier Mississippi Valley Conference teams.

The fourth set alone was worth the price of admission as the Saints stormed back from an 18-11 deficit, staved off five match points and prevailed 35-33 on a kill by Lexi Noonan.

"Both teams were battling so hard for every point," Linn-Mar Coach Teresa Bair remarked. "That's the kind of volleyball that you want to see."

Linn-Mar is ranked No. 7 in Class 5A with a 20-5 record, while Xavier is ranked No. 5 in Class 4A with a 23-4 mark. The Saints handed the Lions two of their five losses at the Cedar Rapids Washington tournament - once in pool play and again in the finals - but the Lions got the upper hand this time with a lineup packed with college-bound players.

"I'm proud of our group. We battled," said Xavier Coach Austin Filer. "Linn-Mar is a fantastic team and I think that's one of the toughest teams in the state.

"We've talked all year: We are not scared of losses," he said. "We embrace what comes from that. We're getting better and I cannot wait to see this team in a couple of weeks."

Linn-Mar had three future college volleyball players on the floor with 6-foot-2 junior Carly Spies (Northern Iowa), 5-foot-8 senior Ellie Anderson (Denver) and 5-foot-5 senior Emilee McGowan (North Dakota State).


An exciting (and bumpy) year for Hawkeyes?

From this angle, it doesn't look like the Iowa Hawkeyes will have too many easy victories in the Big Ten this year.

Maybe none at all.

If nothing else, that's what the last two games have taught us about the 2016 Hawkeyes.

Iowa is good enough to beat just about anyone on its schedule - although Wisconsin and Michigan could be a stretch at this point - but it also appears the vulnerable Hawks could lose to anyone.

The 23-21 setback to North Dakota State last week was an eye-opener. And scoring only 14 points against Rutgers in a 14-7 victory Saturday also raised some eyebrows.

The Hawkeyes did not score in the first 29 minutes of the game Saturday in New Jersey. And if Rutgers star Damarian Grant had not suffered a serious ankle injury late in the first half, the Hawkeyes might have limped home with a loss in the Big Ten opener.

Grant is a special talent, as he displayed when he eluded four UI tacklers on a 76-yard pass play late in the first half. Iowa cornerback Desmond King accidentally stepped on Grant's right ankle when he tackled Grant at the 3-yard line, and that turn of events may have decided the game.

Rutgers did not score from the 3-yard line, Grant did not return after catching 5 passes for 98 yards in the first half and the Hawkeyes were able to prevail on Akrum Wadley's 26-yard touchdown scamper with 8:35 left in the game after Brandon Snyder forced a Rutgers fumble and recovered the ball at the Rutgers 21-yard line.


Smooth Saints roll by Decorah

DECORAH - Smooooth.

That's the best way to describe how the Xavier Saints played football Friday night.

Smooooth, with a lot of extra "o's" for the offense.

The top-ranked Saints enjoyed touchdown drives of 72, 71, 87, 80 and 73 yards and collected a big heaping of revenge against the Decorah Vikings, 38-6, in a Class 3A district game in Decorah.

The Vikings upset the Saints in the Class 3A playoffs in Cedar Rapids last year, handing Xavier its only loss of the season.

"We were ready to play," said Xavier tailback Maliki Wilson, who cracked 200 yards for the third time this season. "After last year, we all hit the weight room and we've been looking forward to this for a whole year.

"None of us really like them after last year," he said.

Wilson did not mean the Saints personally disliked the Vikings. Rather, he meant they didn't like what the Vikings did to them a year ago.

"We learned from our mistakes and we just tried to execute," said Wilson, who rushed 26 times for 219 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard burst in the second half. "I think tonight we all wanted to hit somebody. That's football, though."

Bryce Schulte hit 10 of 13 passes for 171 yards in his sharpest game of the year, with Nolan Butkowski hauling in four of those throws for 127 yards.


Rodriguez gives Saints rare weapon at fullback

On most high school football teams, the fullback has one primary assignment that overshadows everything else.

He's supposed to block, block and block some more.

Erik Rodriguez is certainly an outstanding blocker for the Xavier Saints, but he's also an accomplished runner and a good receiver for the No. 1 team in Class 3A.

If Xavier's opponents worry too much about tailback Maliki Wilson or quarterback Bryce Schulte, Rodriguez is very capable of making them pay a heavy price.

"Erik is a different weapon back there," Xavier Coach Duane Schulte acknowledged. "He's a nice kid, too.

"He's the perfect blend for what you need in terms of a Xavier football player," the coach said. "He's a super-nice kid in the hallways and in school and everywhere else, but he gets a little nasty in him when he crosses the line and plays football. That's what we want."

Rodriguez, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, has carried the ball 22 times for 164 yards in four games for a healthy average of 7.5 yards per carry. He's also caught four passes for 36 yards and is an integral part of the offense.

And make no mistake, he likes getting his nose dirty at fullback.


Armstrong helps Eagles toughen up

Nobody wanted to look at Erica Armstrong's left hand after she dislocated a finger while playing for the Kirkwood volleyball team in a 3-0 victory over NIACC Wednesday night, although the trainer had no choice.

Several of Armstrong's teammates covered their mouths and looked away.

"They were about to puke," she said later.

Even Armstrong looked away as the trainer examined her hand and then popped the errant finger back into place.

"It was ugly," said Kirkwood Coach Jill Williams, who took a quick peek.

"It was smashed up," Armstrong confirmed.

Incredibly, she did not miss a single point despite the injury. "Oh no, couldn't," she said firmly.

Without a doubt, Armstrong is a tough customer on the floor.

The trainer taped her pinkie and ring finger together between sets and the 6-foot sophomore from Guttenburg and Clayton Ridge High School simply played on.


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