During an episode of the television sitcom “Friends”, character Ross Geller oversees a trivia contest involving the roommates where he coined phrases “Challenge extended” and “Challenge accepted.”
He could have made a cameo with the Cedar Rapids Xavier volleyball team. A team that has risen to their latest tests and welcome the next one.
Sixth-ranked Xavier bounced Waukee from the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Class 4A state volleyball tournament Wednesday with a 25-17, 18-25, 25-21, 25-17 quarterfinal win at the U.S. Cellular Center. It was the first time the Saints had won even one game in their third state tournament appearance.
The Saints (30-11) reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history and face top-ranked Ankeny noon Friday with a state finals berth on the line. Ankeny swept Xavier in three games in last year’s quarterfinals.
“We’re extremely excited,” said Xavier Coach Barb Brunow, whose team has set a school record with 30 wins. “This team has gone places and done things that no volleyball team in the history of the school has done and winning this first-round game is one of those. We’ve been doing things we weren’t supposed to do all year, so let’s take down Ankeny next.”
The Saints, who beat No. 2 Iowa City High to reach state, have raised the bar of the program, reaching new levels. The current players are excited to show how far the program has advanced.
“It’s a honor for us,” Xavier senior outside hitter Ty Sampson said. “We’re glad we could set a record for our school and show what the Xavier volleyball program has become over the years.”
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Xavier overcame a slow start, trailing by two in the opening game before winning nine straight points and 16 of 19 to take a 24-14 lead. Sampson had two of her team-high 20 kills during that stretch capped by consecutive kills by Alex Saxen.
“I thought we came out pretty slow,” Brunow said. “We were pretty quiet to get started, but the girls have really worked on gaining confidence and knowing what to expect and so I thought that’s where we were in the first game and exactly where we were.”
The Saints suffered through some errors, which allowed Waukee to pull even after the second game. The Warriors won the last six points and 12 of the final 14 to close it out. Xavier had to overcome some serving errors and hits out of bounds.
“I want the girls to play aggressive,” Brunow said. “They know that’s where we’re going for is aggressive all the time and I guess when you’re trying to be aggressive you’re going to sacrifice a few errors here and there. As long as everything else is in check it’s OK. There’s an ebb and a flow to the game and you have to ride the wave.”
The Saints ratcheted up the intensity in the third game, rebounding from the loss of the game and the loss of starter Kelly Bierman, who was carried off the court by Brunow and Sampson. Bierman, who finished with three kills, suffered an injury to her left leg between the knee and ankle and left the arena on crutches. The severity of the injury was unknown, according to Burnow. It did present a source of motivation and challenge.
“I just wanted it so bad. I wanted it for my team,” Sampson said. “We played that last game for Kelly, because she went down. We just wanted to play hard for her because we she wanted to do a lot for us.”
The third game went back and forth until two Saxen kills matched Xavier’s biggest lead, making it 19-15. The saints closed it out with a kill from Sampson and Bailey Kaloupek’s ace.
“The confidence of winning the third game carried us over into the fourth game,” Brunow said.
Xavier corralled the momentum in the fourth, securing its spot in the semis by capitalizing on Waukee miscues with one of Moleigh Ryther’s 10 kill and two from Sampson for the last nine points and 10 of the final 11.
“The team is really strong on seniors,” Brunow said. “Ty, being one of our captains, the team really looks to her for a lot of momentum and to be one of those people who can close on a play. She really came through for us (Wednesday). To watch her excitement and get excited, feeds everybody else. She’s definitely a spark for the team.
“Along with her, Alex Saxen is one of the other major sparks for the team. When she’s in there’s almost like there’s a life that kind of flows through the team.”
Waukee (22-9) made its second trip to the state tournament and first since 1999. Abby Krantz had nine kills to lead the Warriors, and Morgan Hoeg and Amy Nestingen had eight apiece.
“We’re a very, very strong passing team. But we weren’t (today). They just served us off the court,” Waukee Coach Ed Frederick. ”We’re still a young team, so to go four games in the first round is a good accomplishment.”
Now, Xavier has the unenviable task of trying to dethrone the two-time defending 4A state champions.
“Now that we’ve had experience we’re ready to play them,” Sampson said. “They’re a good team so we’re excited to play them.”
Another challenge accepted.