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Wyatt carries Rebels’ flag | News, Sports, Jobs

REINBECK – On a cold, wintry December afternoon in the Gladbrook-Reinbeck High School cafeteria, Ava Wyatt sits to think. Not just in that season, but in a volleyball career that spanned four years and saw two runs to a Class 1A title shot — and included the last two years in which the senior became one of the top players in the state all the way around and becomes one of the core leaders for a rebel unit that mixes experience and youthful talent.

Ava Wyatt learned in the footsteps of Gladbrook-Reinbeck legend Saari Kuehl and became a legend in her own right. Ava Wyatt’s journey has led her to the Times-Republican Area Volleyball Player of the Year award for 2022-23.

Wyatt was a member of the 2020 Gladbrook-Reinbeck team that made it to the state finals, losing to Burlington-Notre Dame in four sets. It wasn’t the result anyone on the team wanted, but for Wyatt – a member of the starting rotation but not an all-around player at the time – it was a valuable experience for years to come.

GR isn’t a school used to volleyball success — or at least not until Paula Kelley became the team’s head coach. Kelley has been a part of every single state-qualified team in the school’s history as a player in 1988 and then as a coach for four of the last five seasons.

After seeing the rise of Kuehl and her steadfast senior season, Wyatt’s rise came as no surprise to Kelley. Kelley said Wyatt was able to adapt quickly to her increasing role as an executive.

“She learned about her from people — she asked questions, tried to copy/mimic the thugs in front of her,” Kelley said. “When it was her turn, she could do that for the younger kids below her and step aside and say, ‘Hey, now do it like this or watch your steps like this.'”

Following the 2020 season, Kuehl and several other seniors left the team with a leadership vacuum and big shoes to fill. Megan Cooley and Wyatt were two of the players who were expected to fill those roles and make the leap from situational players to players around the rotation. Changing game time and style like that is a difficult adjustment, and it took both players some growing pains to feel comfortable.

“Playing all the way and not taking a break is so much harder mentally,” Wyatt said. “You have to work on being there for your team and focusing on your back and front row aspect to pull it all together.”

Wyatt learned the ropes and found her feet over the course of her junior season and quickly became a key cog in the Rebel attack. Her association with setter Emma McClintock, with whom she had played at school and club ball for years, would prove crucial over the next two seasons.

Despite a strong 2021 season, the Rebels were left frustrated with how their season was ending. They made the state No. 7 and were beaten in four sets by Springville. Heading into the 2022 season, Wyatt said the focus isn’t as much on a “revenge spree” as it will be on a season later. In fact, GR started the season in fourth place and rarely strayed from the top five. But by mid-year, the rebels weren’t firing on all cylinders. The team was strong but still had more to give. Four losses to North Tama contributed to the dampening of the first half of the year.

As the second half of the season began, GR kicked things into high gear. Wyatt said confidence in the group had been boosted and the team had started to fully line up at all stages. After the fourth loss to North Tama on October 11, the Rebels continued a 12-game winning streak. A big part of their success was using Wyatt as a backline attacker.

“I think a big part was that Emma could be trusted,” Wyatt said. “Emma knew she could trick me and I could help her with it. It was a lot to learn how to punch from the back row, but once we figured it out it was a good secret weapon Emma could find me back there.

Winning the Algona tournament at the end of the regular season gave GR a boost for the postseason. The Regionals began with the Rebels flexing their muscles against North Butler, defeating their opponents in straight sets (part of an eight-game streak without dropping a single set). Similar convincing victories followed against Riceville and Dunkerton in the regional finals, with both opponents paving the way for another participation in the state tournament in the second set (25-5 against Riceville and 25-6 against Dunkerton).

This is where Wyatt’s goal of a ‘tour of revenge’ came into focus – a chance for the Rebels to bounce back from disappointment and make their mark on the biggest stage once more.

At the state tournament, Wyatt made a statement early and often – taking games and dropping spikes with speed and efficiency. She had 24 kills in the quarterfinals against Holy Trinity Catholic, hitting .246 during the four-set win.

A semifinal game against NICL West rivals AGWSR — a team that defeated the Rebels three times during the regular season — yielded another 22 kills from Wyatt and despite a third set that saw a 9-3 GR lead lead to a 25-20 – Victory was for AGWSR. The Rebels held on for a spot in the finals. Wyatt had 46 kills in the first two games of the state tournament, but her first set against opponent Ankeny Christian Academy in the finals was a perfect example of her full potential. The senior grabbed 11 kills in the first set and propelled the Rebels to a convincing 25-21 win.

Kelley said the skills she showed at the state tournament were a testament to all the hard work she put in in her career.

“It comes when it’s meant to come, and it happens when it happens,” Kelley said. “I’m really happy for her that she was able to explode and shine.”

After a 2-0 lead, the Rebels collapsed under the weight of four match points begging. ACA won in five sets and subdued the GR seniors to a second state title heartbreaker in three seasons.

It was a difficult pill to swallow immediately after the game, but looking back on her senior season, Wyatt said she has no regrets.

“It’s very special for me to think about it,” Wyatt said. “I never thought I would have such a great career and being here at GR for those four years has been crazy.

“It’s sad to think about, we came so close to winning the final. But reaching the finals twice and being part of the All-Tournament team was a good experience.”

She finished the title match with 25 kills and 13 misses for a total of 71 kills in the Rebel state run, and finished the year with a school record 480 kills in a season — the fourth-highest in Class 1A. She was a member of the All-Tournament Team.

With soccer coming up in the spring and club volleyball in the winter, Wyatt is still busy as her senior year of high school approaches. Will there be another chapter in their volleyball story? Well, that part is still unclear.

At the time of writing, she said she’s been torn about it all season. There have been discussions and contacts with interested Division II and III schools and teams, but there is also the option of attending the college as an undergraduate only. She’s also not sure at this point what she wants to study in college, but with time on her side to make decisions on both fronts, she decides to weigh her options.

Whatever her decision, she said she had a lot to love from her time on the Reinbeck pitch.

“It was really special to be so successful and to help grow the program a little bit,” said Wyatt. “I think a lot of the little girls from our school now want to play volleyball and want to be as good as us.

“It will be difficult to put on a GR jersey for the last time. It’s bittersweet, but it was a really great time and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

2022 TR All-Area Volleyball Team

Player of the Year – Ava Wyatt, Sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck

Assistant Coach of the Year – Channing Halstead, North Tama, and Paula Kelley, Gladbrook-Reinbeck


Sydney Anderson, Jr., S, BCLUW; Megan Cooley, Sr., MH, Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Shae Ewoldt, Sr., OH, North Tama; Emma McClintock, Sr., S, Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Jadyn Rausch, Sr., S, North Tama; Breanna Sebetka, Sr., MH, North Tama.


Kennedy Brant, fr., MH, Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Josie deNeui, Jr., S, West Marshall; Addison Hochstetler, Fr., L, North Tama; Khloe Shipley, Sr., S, Marshalltown; Callie Swanson, Jr., DS, BCLUW; Lainey Willenbring, Sr., OH, North Tama.


Kortney Babinat, Sr., OH, South Tama; Faith Bandstra, Sr., S, East Marshall; Briar Blake, so., MH, North Tama; Breehan Dubberke, Sr., L, Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Avery Evertson, so., MH, West Marshall; Izzy Hallett, Jr., DS, North Tama; Halie Hohnstein, Jr., MH, West Marshall; Mallori Jones, Jr., RS, BCLUW; Amaya Moore, Jr., MH, Marshalltown; Say Paw, Sr., L, Marshalltown; Ella Roush, Jr., MH, Marshalltown; Adelyn Sienknecht, Jr., OH, GMG.

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