The Laurens-Marathon volleyball team still has some things to work on, according to head coach Kerry Feekes, but that doesn't mean the Chargers don't have a chance to make the 2003 Iowa State Tournament.
The Laurens-Marathon spikers' week started nicely last Thursday, when they defeated then tenth-ranked Rockwell City-Lytton, 19-25, 25-12, 25-23 and 25-21.
Since then, Rockwell City Lytton has dropped out of the rankings and in last Thursday's Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Class A poll, the Chargers were ranked 13th.
L-M, including this Saturday's tourney at Estherville, is 22-4 overall in matches and 53-12 in games.
"We've been playing well, with our balance in hitting and our serving being our strongpoints," Feekes said Sunday night. "We still need to improve if we want to challenge the top teams in our region."
The Chargers have just three regular season matches left, then open Region 1 play Wednesday, Oct. 22 when they play host to Lakeland in Laurens.
If L-M wins as expected, it would most likely meet Clay Central-Everly, a team it has already beaten at its own tournament Sept. 13.
On the horizon in possible region play are the two top contenders in Region 1, Swea City-North Kossuth and Rock Valley. North was ranked fourth last week and Rock Valley sixth.
"If we are going to beat those teams, we'll need to play a little better defensively," Feekes said. "And at times, our passing hasn't been what it needs to be."
But Feekes has gotten what he expected at the start of the season and more. He lost three starters from last year, including setter Lindsey Meyer, left side hitter Betsy Behrens and middle hitter Nicole Umbriet.
But returning were three starters, including senior Jenni Elbert, junior hitter Kristi Brechler and outside hitter Jacqulyn Schmidt.
Feekes said he moved Brechler from the middle she played last year to left outside hitter and she hasn't missed a beat.
While Elbert and Brechler, both 5-feet, 10 inches, have lead the Chargers in hitting most games, they've had significant offensive contribution from the athletic, 5-9 Schmidt and 6-foot junior Amy Salton.
"We have five girls averaging over 1.5 kills per game, and that's good balance," Feekes said. "We aren't a team where just one or two girls are going to carry us. We need for everybody to step up and play their positions well."
Senior Kim Milton has stepped in at the setter position and done an outstanding job, Milton said. She played on the L-M junior varsity team that went 19-1 last year.
"But there's a big difference in JV competition and varsity," Feekes said. "Kim put in a lot of time into getting better and learning the position, both during this season and over the summer. She's making good decisions on where and who needs the ball when."
Defensively and in the back row, the Chargers have gotten strong play from senior Ashlie Brazel and juniors Amber Sandvig and MacKenzie Bell. All are returning letterwinners, but Sandvig is coming off an injury, the coach said.
L-M, meanwhile, suffered three of its losses at the Algona Classic Sept. 6. The Chargers lost to 3A Algona, and in two games to Swea City North Kossuth. The Chargers' lost last week to Rock Valley in the finals of the Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Invitational. In that contest, the Chargers won the first game but lost the last two.
"We still need to get better, but we've improved a lot since that first weekend and if we keep it up, we have the potential to beat both North Kossuth and Rock Valley. Playing good defense will be a key for us."
NOTES: Schaller-Crestland was ranked second in Class A in last Thursday's IGHSAU poll. Tripoli is ranked first, while the three, four and five teams, respectively, are Dunlap-Boyer Valley, North Kossuth and New Sharon North Mahaska.
*Schaller-Crestland will open tournament play Oct. 22 at home against conference rival Storm Lake-St. Mary's. If it wins, it would play the winner either Newell-Fonda or the winner of a first-round game Oct. 22 between Aurelia and Albert City-Truesdale.