CEDAR RAPIDS – Tripoli junior Megan Gilbert called a season that ended before playing for a state championship horrible. Almost inconceivable and one she wouldn’t enjoy.
Fortunately, she won’t have to experience that for the first time.
Top-ranked Tripoli stormed being down 2-0 and beat LeMars Gehlen, 20-25, 22-25, 25-16, 25-12, 15-3, in a Class 1A semifinal at the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union state volleyball tournament Friday night at the U.S. Cellular Center. The Panthers will attempt to win their third straight state title Saturday at 5 p.m.
“We always want to get there,” Gilbert said of the championship game. “That’s one of our main goals.”
Gehlen was poised to be a roadblock, claiming the first two games. It just meant the Panthers (35-5) would have to earn their berth.
“They did the right things to get us the first two games,” Gilbert said. “We had to come back tough and get it. It was really fun.”
Gilbert was asked if doubt had crept into her mind with Gehlen in command. Her face exhibited a perplexed look.
“Oh, no. I’d never think that,” Gilbert said. “We are always confident. We don’t think that way because if you think that way it could happen.”
Tripoli senior Erica Ollendieck admitted to feeling uneasy at the start of the third game, but she did her best to eliminate any question as to who would advance with an impressive serving streak in the decisive game.
Ollendieck served 11 straight points that turned a 2-0 hole into a 12-2 Panthers scoring avalanche. Ollendieck earned the serve with one of her seven kills and then went nuts, scoring two aces during the streak.
“I just focused on getting the ball in. I knew I had to put it in. We knew our offense could put the ball down,” Ollendieck said. “I wasn’t nervous. I knew we had momentum.”
A lot of that momentum was thanks to Gilbert. The first-team all-stater had a game-high 34 kills. She hammered spikes home, scoring two kills in the final four points. Gilbert’s second solo blockk of the night ended the game and propelled the Panthers to the finals.
“When you’re in big games like that, the season’s on the line that’s who you go to,” Tripoli Coach Will Baumann said. “Megan’s a great player and that’s what great players do.”
Panther dominated the final three games with Bailey Kirchhoff scoring 13 kills. Tripoli found its groove and took command, playing more aggressively and defensively.
“I think we got a sense of urgency,” Gilbert said. “That could have been our last game.”
Steph Rohe had 16 kills to power Gehlen (28-7). The Jays came out strong, taking the opening set when Amber Timmins had a kill and assisted on a block to end it. Timmins finished with seven kills and three aces and 32 assists.
Gehlen notched the final five points of the second game to take a commanding lead, but lost ball control and didn’t have the same swing in the final three games, according to Jays Coach Mike Meyer.
“It’s kind of disappointing because we really had the opportunity to pull a good upset,” Meyer said. “They deserve a lot of credit.”
Now, the Panthers will face Janesville (26-8), which is making its first finals appearance in its first trip to state. Tripoli is attempting to win its ninth title in 12 state appearances.
“It’s amazing,” Ollendieck said about playing in the finals. “It’s probably one of the best feelings in the world.”
JANESVILLE 3, STANTON 1
The Wildcats made their first trip to the IGHSAU state volleyball tournament a memorable one, advancing to Saturday’s 1A Championship game.
Janesville defeated No. 8 Stanton, 25-18, 25-23, 24-26, 25-20, in the semifinals of the 1A state volleyball tournament Friday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We definitely dreamed about it,” Outside hitter Olivia Fisher said. “It’s awesome it’s become a reality.”
One trip to state, one finals appearance and a longtime waiting for a senior class that had championship aspirations since winning an AAU state crown as sixth-graders.
“We knew if we worked hard we could get to the championship,” senior Karli Kruse said. “We have really good chemistry. We play like a family.”
The Wildcats (26-8) controlled the first game and fought off Stanton’s late surge at the end of the second to take a 2-0 lead. Janesville was in command of Game 3, leading 22-20, before Stanton battled back to take the game.
“We let up a little bit in the third game,” Fisher said. “We just came back and fought.”
“We were nervous,” Kruse said. “We kept composed. We came through.”
Fisher led the Wildcats with 22 kills and four aces. Kruse had 3 kills, while Brittany Hanson dished out 37 assists.
“They were a strong group,” Janesville Coach Shelly Sorensen said of the senior class as they climbed the program’s ranks. “They know what they need to do and to get it done.”
Stanton (28-4) fought hard, extending the match to a fourth game and then cutting an 11-point Janesville lead to two late in the fourth. Kadie Subbert was exceptional, tallying 25 kills and a block. Carmen Subbert added 12 kills for Stanton.
Amber Timmins, Bailey Kitchhoff, class 1A, Erica Ollendieck, IGHSAU, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Jaybirds. Janesville, LeMars Gehlen, Megan Gilbert, Mike Meyer, Panthers, prep volleyball regionals, Stanton, state volleyball tournament, Steph Rohe, Tripoli, U.S. Cellular Center, Will Baumann