CEDAR RAPIDS – Iowa City High got down right defensive Friday afternoon.
The Little Hawks were matched-up with top-ranked Ankeny in the Class 5A semifinals at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and they took the court with an attitude.
“We came out a little slow,” said senior middle hitter Abby Saehler. “We were off in the first game. Then we got a little fire under our butts and went from there.”
And go they did. The Little Hawks defense answered almost every challenge from a talented Ankeny squad, blocking effectively and digging ball after ball. When it was over, City High had a 23-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-19 win and a spot in the state title game for a second straight season.
Coach Craig Pitcher’s squad (31-8) will meet Bettendorf today 10 a.m. for the state title. The Bulldogs advanced with a four-set win over Pleasant Valley. Ankeny closes at 30-7.
Pitcher admitted it was ‘fun’ to watch his team over the final three games.
“You always hear about a team playing for someone or something,” Pitcher said. “We told them to come out and play for themselves. (Today) they just went out and didn’t stop and it paid off.”
Ankeny took the first game, but City High showed what might be coming by making a comeback and almost getting a win.
“We almost got it done there,” Pitcher said. “We were making a run at them and I think that gave us a lot of confidence going forward and for whatever reason, our block took over this match.”
Ankeny, which will see its team split next year with the opening of a new high school in the district, kept going to talented sophomore hitters Jaali Winters and Megan Ballenger, but neither was able to have the success they have had in prior matches. Winters finished with 15 kills, but needed 44 attempts. Ballenger had 10 kills in 43 tries.
“I just track hitters, I get assigned hitter and I go after hitters,” said City High senior Aliyah Gustafson, who had 12 blocks. “I know I just wanted to play better than I did (in the quarterfinal win over West Des Moines Dowling) and I think I did.”
Today, City High will be looking to take care of some unfinished business. The Little Hawks lost last season’s Class 4A title match in five games Iowa City West.
“We are really excited right now,” Gustafson said. “We are really looking to come back (today) and play our best and get what we didn’t get last year.”