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A View to a Kuehl-Gladbrook-Reinbeck outside hitter Saari Kuehl has already compiled 1,109 kills in her prep volleyball career with one year left to go Andrew Abadie T-R Assistant Sports Editor

December 5, 2019
Northern-Sun Print
REINBECK — There is a saying in sports that reads: “Modesty should be typical of the success of a champion.”

For Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball’s Saari Kuehl, it’s a statement that rings true. If you talk with the 6-foot junior outside hitter, she is not exactly someone who enjoys discussing her accomplishments. But Kuehl’s numerous record-breaking performances have still earned her the Times-Republican’s Volleyball Player of the Year. In 2018, Kuehl set Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s single-season kills record at 456, set the hitting efficiency record at .334 and set the record in kills per set at 4.69 on her way to earning Class 1A first team all-state honors. In 2019, Kuehl ranked fourth in 1A with 433 kills on the season, fourth in kills per set at 4.37 while also posting a kill efficiency of .331, which earned her second team all-state accolades. Being able to find holes on the court has been the key to Kuehl’s success, which has become a task that’s almost like second nature for her. “You have to see the blockers,” Kuehl said. “You have to see the openings on the court. You can’t always see it when you are going up but after you land you have to look and see where they’re at and find the open holes.” While Kuehl’s skill on the court was an important factor for her team, it’s her leadership that was just as crucial. The Rebels entered the season with unknown expectations after losing seven starters from a team that went 28-10 and reached the state tournament. According to G-R head coach Paula Kelley, Kuehl understood that she would have to carry her young team at the start of the season. “I think she knew that she was going to have to carry us for a while, especially with having such a young team,” Kelley said. “Not just young in age but young in experience as well. With only two players returning she knew she was going to have to take that load. I think she was ready for that. She and I talked towards the beginning of the season that this is going to be [her] role. She kind of helped lead on the court last year. She’s been my captain for the last two years on the court not just because she composes herself, but she leads, she directs, she gives advice. She’s intense about it when she talks to the girls about it during a game, but she knows how to play the game. It’s like having a second coach on the court.” G-R had a slow start to the season and began with a 9-6 record with four of the losses being sweeps. With so many younger players, Kelley credited Kuehl’s leadership but also her ability to help players deal with the spotlight, which helped her teammates’ confidence develop. “I think a lot of girls were really excited for the season because the freshmen really wanted to play and you could see that,” Kuehl said. “You have to set the tone at practice. It’s not always laughing all the time. It’s fun but you still have to do your job. We were still trying to figure out who does what, who belonged where and then we kind of settled in and knew our roles.” While not only being a leader for her team, Kuehl is admired in the volleyball community and is often looked at as a role model by younger players, which according to Kelley is something Kuehl pays attention to. “She handles it well,” Kelley said. “When she was kind of the person that was being looked up to last year, she didn’t really step into that super-strong because we had so many seniors and she didn’t want to overstep. But kids noticed and you could see the number of younger girls coming to the games. When they came to camp and whenever they partnered up with her they were on cloud nine.” It’s a responsibility Kuehl understands but also something she values. “It’s fun when you are around the younger girls and then you’ll be with one and they just can’t wipe the smile off their face,” she said. “That’s hilarious. “I think it’s kind of cool and special. It’s important to be a good person for them.” At the Comet Invite, Kuehl had a memorable moment that highlighted the volleyball community’s respect for her when she earned the 1,000th kill of her career against BCLUW. It was a moment Kelley wanted to make special for her player. “We knew after the Jessup game that she was probably going to hit [1,000 kills] at the BCLUW tournament,” Kelley said. “I already had talked to the other coaches and officials about it. The refs wanted to call a timeout. I was [originally] going to call a personal timeout to use that minute to celebrate that huge accomplishment and the refs said that they would call timeout themselves for that. “I just wanted her to celebrate that accomplishment. After talking to some other area coaches, they said they didn’t make a big deal out of that and they regretted it, so I didn’t want to miss that opportunity to celebrate a great accomplishment.” However, it became more of a moment of appreciation and admiration for the humble player. BCLUW players congratulated Kuehl mid-game, players and parents congratulated her throughout the tournament as well as other coaches posting her accomplishment on Twitter. “I just didn’t expect anything to happen and then it did,” Kuehl said. “It was so cool because everyone was just happy.” After the team’s 9-6 start, the Rebels won 17 of their last 20 matches. “Once the season got going you would think that we needed to go to Saari and win this point,” Kelley said. “But our setter would choose somebody else and they were successful. Saari is OK with that. Her number one concern is for the team to win and that’s always been her number one concern. Whatever she can do to help the team whether she needs to have a better game serving or better defense, if she needs to carry the team offensively, she will do what needs to be done for the team to win.” As the season progressed, Kuehl’s numbers went up. In total, she had 12 matches with 15 or more kills. Five of those went over 20 kills with her season-high of 28 kills coming against Bishop Garrigan in the regional semifinals. Despite that success, Kuehl credited her teammates. “I just was doing well that night [against Bishop Garrigan],” Kuehl said. “We started doing back rows so that really helped. All the other hitters were pulling blockers because they were all on, too, so that was really helpful.” At the end of the day, Kuehl’s leadership and her skillset helped G-R find success in more unlikely circumstances as the Rebels finished the season 26-9 and reached the regional final. “[Modesty], that’s her personality, but she’s a competitor,” Kelley said. “She’s a tiger underneath and wants to win. She will not tell you it’s all her because she understands that it takes a team to win — not just one person. “She can tell you that she does a lot for the team but she will not say she is the reason we win because that’s just not who she is. As for Kuehl, who still has one season to go, she has just one goal for her final year. “I just want to go to state again.”

THE 2019 TEAMS The 2019 Times-Republican All-Area Volleyball Team features 10 returners from last year’s squad. North Tama returns now four-time all-area member Katie Kopriva and now three-time all-area selection Takoa Kopriva. Katie was named as first-team all-state after being a second-team pick last fall, while Tokoa was up from the all-state third team to this year’s second team. Joining the Koprivas from North Tama are first-time all-area selections Isabel Sierra, a second-team setter, and senior middle hitter Carlie Gorder and junior outside hitter Abby DeBoef, who each earned honorable mention. Gorder also earned all-district for the first time in her career. Marshalltown’s Madi Finch makes her third appearance on the all-area team, but her first honor as first team. Finch compiled 645 assists, 159 digs and 22 blocks this fall. Erica Johnson makes her second consecutive appearance on the all-area first team after posting 250 kills and 338 digs on the year. Making her second appearance on the second team is Autumn Finch, who had 213 kills and 50 blocks. West Marshall’s Hana Hohnstein makes her second consecutive appearance on the all-area team but her first time earning first-team honors. On the season, Hohnstein had 369 assists, 254 digs and 109 kills. Teammate Teresa Disney makes her second consecutive appearance as an all-area member as an honorable mention. Madison Ubben earns her second consecutive appearance as all-area first team for BCLUW. Ubben had 235 kills and 214 digs this season. Jade Hammers, Lizzie Garber and Allison Engle each earned second-team all-area honors. For both Garber and Hammers it is their second consecutive appearances as all-area members. Ubben also was a repeat all-district pick. Gladbrook-Reinbeck features the only two freshmen on the all-area team. Emma McClintock’s 660 assists and 107 digs earned her second-team all-area honors while Ava Wyatt had 177 kills and 27 blocks. Rounding out the honorable mention selections are South Tama’s Clarissa Rosenberger and East Marshall’s Zoeie Fontanini, who each earn their first time as all-area honorees.

2019 T-R All-Area Volleyball Team Player of the Year — Saari Kuehl, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck Co-Coach of the Year — Channing Halstead, North Tama, and Paula Kelley, Gladbrook-Reinbeck

FIRST TEAM Madi Finch, sr., S, Marshalltown; Hana Hohnstein, sr., S/OH, West Marshall; Erica Johnson, sr., OH, Marshalltown; Katie Kopriva, sr., RS, North Tama; Takoa Kopriva, sr., L, North Tama; Madison Ubben, sr., MH, BCLUW

SECOND TEAM Allison Engle, so., S, BCLUW ; Autumn Finch, so., MH, Marshalltown; Lizzie Garber, jr., S/OH, BCLUW ; Jade Hammers, sr., OH, BCLUW; Emma McClintock, fr., S, Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Isabel Sierra, sr., S, North Tama

HONORABLE MENTION Abby DeBoef, jr., OH, North Tama; Teresa Disney, sr., MH, West Marshall; Zoeie Fontanini, sr., L, East Marshall; Carlie Gorder, sr., MH, North Tama; Clarissa Rosenberger, sr., L, South Tama; Ava Wyatt, fr., OH, Gladbrook-Reinbeck

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Gladbrook-Reinbeck outside hitter Saari Kuehl has already compiled 1,109 kills in her prep volleyball career with one year left to go.



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