Memory lane: Wilton making sixth state volleyball appearance


The Class 2A No. 2 ranked Wilton volleyball team made its third straight state appearance (and sixth overall) after a sweep of West Branch in Regional final action at West Liberty Oct. 28. The Beavers (32-3) went in heavy favorites and swept their way through Regional play, defeating Louisa-Muscatine, Columbus and West Branch en route to state, going 9-0 in set play and winning by an average score of 25-10 per game.

Wilton entered the state tournament in Cedar Rapids Nov. 3-5 as the No. 2 seed in Class 2A. The Beavers faced No. 7 seed Van Meter (19-3) in the quarterfinals Nov. 3. They swept the Bulldogs 25-13, 25-21, 25-13.

Wilton head coach Brenda Grunder has coached the Beavers for 35 years, beginning in 1981 and taking a break from 2004-2010. She has more than 600 wins in her career.

Wilton also qualified for the state tournament in 1993, 2003, 2004, 2018 and 2019. Grunder coached each of the teams and her daughter Kayla, who now serves as an assistant on the Wilton staff, played on the 2003-2004 teams.

1993: Wilton qualifies for first time

Led by a senior quartet of Nicki Bradley, Debbie Marolf, Sara Nichols and April Sperstad, the 1993 Wilton volleyball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time in school history.

Grunder was in her 13th season as head coach of the Wilton program then, at a time when the Beavers played in the Eastern Iowa Hawkeye Conference (EIHC) and games were played to 15 (win by two) and teams had to serve for points.

The Beavers were 28-2-3 entering the state tournament and defeated fellow EIHC foe and No. 3 ranked Mount Vernon in the Regional final 15-9, 15-12, 15-2 — avenging an earlier season loss. The match was played at Wilton due to Mount Vernon also hosting playoff football the night of the match.

At the state tournament the Beavers, ranked 11th, were defeated in the opening round by Rockwell City-Lytton 15-3, 15-11, 15-13. The Beavers were down 13-4 in game two before making a comeback and were up 13-11 in set three before falling victim to a sweep.

Wilton ended the year 28-3-3 and the 1993-1994 girls went on to have the most successful year in the school’s history, qualifying individuals to state in cross country and track, and making state in volleyball and softball, and making the state finals in basketball.

2003 Beavers on to state

Grunder’s 2003 Wilton team featured sisters Ashley and Peggy Riessen and her daughter Kayla Grunder, a do-it all player who served as the team’s setter. Other key contributors included Tara LaMaack, Lyndsey Lyon, Melissa Watkins-Schoenig, Brittney Crane, Rachel Ingstad and Laura Sass.

The Beavers tied for an EIHC title that season, beating previously unbeaten Regina to do it.

Wilton, ranked No. 5 in Class 2A, defeated Mount Vernon in the Regional semifinals after being down 0-2. The Beavers won 17-25, 17-25, 25-19, 25-22, 15-12.

In the Regional finals, Wilton defeated Dyersville Beckman on a neutral court in Marion 25-22, 24-26, 26-24, 25-22.

The Beavers entered the state tournament ranked fifth with a record of 29-5 and were defeated in the quarterfinals by No. 6 ranked Aplington Parkersburg 25-22, 25-14, 25-15 to finish with an overall record of 29-6 in Grunder’s 23rd year at the helm.

Five of Wilton’s six losses that season came to teams that qualified for the state tournament.

2004 Beavers get back, win game

After qualifying for state in 2003, the 2004 Beavers won another EIHC title. Featuring players such as Kayla Grunder, Peggy Riessen, Laura Sass, Tara LaMaack, Nicole Duncan and Steph Miene, Wilton finished the regular season 31-3 and ranked third in the state.

In the Regional final, the Beavers defeated 10th ranked Regina (32-5) at Muscatine in a 5-set thriller 18-25, 25-17, 25-17, 23-25, 15-13.

In the 2A state tournament, Wilton got its first ever state win in the quarterfinals over No. 9 ranked Underwood 25-18, 25-15, 25-14.

In the semifinals, the Beavers were defeated by Western Christian 25-20, 25-20, 25-16. Western Christian was the defending 3-time state champions and went on to win its fourth straight state title that season with a finals win over Aplington Parkersburg.

Wilton finished with an overall record of 33-4. The 33 wins were a school record and all four of the losses were to teams that qualified for state.

2018 Beavers defeat No. 1

en route to state tournament

The 2018 Wilton volleyball team set several records on the way to its fourth state tournament run in school history. Led by a senior group of Aubrey Putman, Emily Lange, Kortney Drake and Eleney Owens, the Beavers were ranked 11th in Class 2A heading to the Regional final, where they knocked off No. 1 ranked Grundy Center 25-15, 21-25, 25-16, 25-22.

Grundy Center was looking to make the state tournament for the third straight year before being upset by Wilton. Prior to defeating Grundy Center, Wilton came back from down 0-2 and 22-15 in the third set to West Branch on its home court in Regional semifinal action.

Wilton received the No. 8 seed in the 2018 Class 2A state tournament and had to face No. 2 ranked and top seeded Dyersville Beckman in the quarterfinals. Beckman defeated Durant to make it to state and swept Wilton at state 25-21, 25-13, 25-17.

Putman, a Division I signee at Western Illinois, finished her career with 1,598 kills for the Beavers.

Wilton finished 2018 with an overall record of 36-5 and 86-17 overall in sets. All five losses were to teams that made the state tournament, three of which made the state finals in their respective classes. The Beavers set the following school records:

36 wins

86 set wins

120-31 in a 4-year span

Started 20-0 for first time in school history

2019 Beavers earn top 3 seed

Coming off a record setting 2018 season that resulted in a trip to the state tournament, the 2019 Beavers picked up where they left off. Wilton started the year 20-0, tying the school record. The Beavers lost just two sets in their opening 20 matches en route to a 35-4 overall record, just one shy of the state record of 36 set the previous season.

Ella Caffery stepped into a new role, serving as a hitter while also sharing setting duties with Kelsey Drake, who also served dual roles. In the past, Caffery did the setting and Drake did the killing. In 2019, they both shared the wealth.

Despite losing to West Liberty in the River Valley Conference tournament finals, Wilton defeated three straight RVC teams in Regional play, including defeating West Branch 3-1 in the finals to secure a second straight state appearance.

Ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 2A, the Beavers got the No. 3 seed at the state tournament. They faced Clarion-Goldfield-Dows in the opening round. The Cowgirls upset Wilton in a 3-game sweep 25-23, 25-20, 25-17 behind the hard hitting of junior Morgan Middleton, who set a state record with 34 kills in the match.

It was the only time Wilton was swept in a 5-set match all season. The Beavers were 83-12 in set play for the year. The core nucleus of Kelsey Drake, Ella Caffery, Alexa Garvin and Mallory Lange were sophomores, all salted to come back and start in 2020 while looking for a third straight state berth. Taylor Garvin served as a senior captain in 2019.