CEDAR RAPIDS – Five sets – 11 ties and eight lead changes in the final two – and all it took was a blessing to send one team to the Regional Final.
With the score at 15-14 in the fifth Cedar Rapids Washington’s Aleena Hobbs struck the ball over the net and off a Linn-Mar players finger tips. The deflection shifted the ball toward the ground, in front of three Lions players, all extending as far as their bodies would allow. It still wasn’t enough. It wasn’t the prettiest shot of the match, but it was the deciding factor in a 3-2 Warrior win (25-16, 21-25, 25-21, 23-25, 16-14). Washington plays Pleasant Valley in West Brand Tuesday.
“I think we were blessed,” Washington head coach Kari Lombardi said. “We have some great kids and you know what that’s a lucky shot. It is, in all honesty, but that’s not what won the game.”
The Warriors perseverance won it. The Warriors trailed 11-8 in the fifth set before reeling off five straight points to take control of the set and eventually win the match.
Washington fell behind 2-0 to begin the fifth, after it saw its 25-23 lead with a chance to close out the match vanish.
“You know what, we practice that every single day. We practice 23-23. We practice. And you know my girls need to earn the points, it’s not given to them,” Lombardi said. “So I think that they’ve been in that situation every day for the last three months. I think they knew what they had to do.”
The only comeback more impressive than Washington’s might be Linn-Mar’s. It came up short, but down 23-21 in the fourth was only half the story. The initial call had the score tied at 22-22, after a net violation gave the Lions their 22nd point of the set. The officials then met and reversed the call, digging the hole for Linn-Mar. It wasn’t deep enough for the Lions not to escape.
“That is one thing that we have stressed on all year is don’t ever give up no matter how far down you are or how far up you are,” Linn-Marr head coach Erin Downing said. “You gotta do you job and you’ve got to stay focused.”
The problem was Washington was just as focused. Neither team gave the other an inch. After the first set the largest cushion either team had was four points. In the final set the largest lead was three, held by Linn-Mar. Unfortunately for the Lions, that’s when the Warriors play their best.
“Our girls have played outstanding all season from behind,” Lombardi said. “I don’t like them playing from behind. I like to see them play from the lead but you know, even when we were down, I felt confident that they knew how to push through.”