Determined Golden Hawks powering up in River Valley volleyball

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 8/26/23


Paige Safly, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter for Mid-Prairie’s volleyball team, vaulted into the air with one thought in mind.

A killer spike.

Her arm swung, connected with the …

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Determined Golden Hawks powering up in River Valley volleyball



Paige Safly, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter for Mid-Prairie’s volleyball team, vaulted into the air with one thought in mind.

A killer spike.

Her arm swung, connected with the ball … and wham!

The ball headed toward the other side of the court with crushing force. For one Anamosa player, the painful target was her face. She dropped to the floor, then slowly crawled to the team bench with a bloody lip.

That one moment, which happened in a River Valley Conference preseason scrimmage jamboree last week in Wilton, may have drawn up an accurate and explosive picture of what the Golden Hawks expect to do this season.

The key word, explosive.

The front line is loaded with Safly, a senior who was a bench player last season, and sophomores Jovi Evans and Harper Pacha (a younger sister of Landry Pacha, who was a 2023 graduate and a starter on the front line the last two years), among others, such as 6-foot junior Callie Huber.

The team’s starting libero, Dakota Mitchell, is one of the top defenders in Iowa, all classes, and already being recruited by college programs.

The powers of the River Valley include 2022 state quarterfinalist West Liberty, which didn’t lose a conference match in 2022 and is ranked No. 7 in the Class 3A preseason rankings, and Wilton, which is ranked No. 13 in 2A.

And now arriving, as certain as a Paige Safly slam, are the Golden Hawks, who are hungry to make some serious noise in the River Valley.

“We’re gonna beat them,” Golden Hawks head coach Sherry Evans said. “That’s our goal, obviously. That’s our goal. Every year it’s our goal. What do we need to do in practice to beat those teams, to beat the West Libertys? That was the only one that beat us last year.”

The Golden Hawks won 27 matches last year and came within one step of reaching the state tournament in Class 3A. They lost to Davenport Assumption in a regional final, providing the fuel that is driving the Golden Hawks this fall.

Every point that is won produces a huddle of high-fives on the court.

Every point that is lost produces a shout from Sherry Evans, or assistant coach Jeb Evans. And often, from both of them.

Mid-Prairie was ranked No. 11 last week in the 3A preseason rankings, which is where they ended up last year.

Good enough? Nope.

“We finished the season really well last year,” Sherry Evans said. “We’ve got to decide, ‘Hey, how are we going to beat those Davenport Assumptions? How are we going to beat those teams when we go to the 3A tournament? What’s our next step?

“Our feet have to be faster to the ball, we have to serve with more pace.”

Mid-Prairie began the season Thursday with a sweep of Washington, setting a speedy start to a playing style that could be dizzying. By design.

“We’re not as big as we were last year, so our defense has really got to step up and be able to outwork teams if we don’t get all those blocks like we did last year,” Evans said. “I’m not taking anything away from our block right now because we’re doing a decent job.

“I honestly think we’ve got girls back there that are probably one of the top in the whole state, all classes,” Evans said. “Just how fast we are.”

The run toward a state appearance began in August. Golden Hawk players finished second in a volleyball camp for high schoolers held in Pella. They went to Grinnell for a preseason tourney. They won most of their matches at the River Valley scrimmages in Wilton, though no scores were kept. On Sept. 9, they’ll head to Iowa City West for the Live Like Line Volleyball Tournament, which will feature River Valley rival Regina Catholic and a number of big-school programs from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

An early showdown will happen two days before that, when the Golden Hawks host West Liberty on Sept. 7. It’ll be a huge night. Mid-Prairie hasn’t defeated West Liberty in volleyball since 2009, and when the Golden Hawks lost to the Comets last year three sets to one, it marked the first time in 13 years that they had even won a set against West Liberty.

Take notice. There’ll be some smash spiking and serving that night.

“We are not letting up,” Evans said. “We’re going to serve hard and tough, and with some pace on it.”


News columnist Paul Bowker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @bowkerpaul

Mid-Prairie, volleyball, Sherry Evans, Paige Safly, Dakota Mitchell