CEDAR RAPIDS — They were tight. They were tense. They were teetering with trouble.
“I didn’t like the look of our faces,” Solon Coach Peter Gustin said. “They weren’t the faces of champions.”
The Spartans had just lost the second game and faced an early 9-1 deficit in the third.
“Body language,” he said. “That’s the first thing we needed to turn around.”
The transformation was immediate and impressive, and sixth-ranked Solon went on to knock off No. 2 Sioux City Heelan, 27-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-20, in a Class 4A semifinal at the state volleyball tournament Friday afternoon at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Solon (33-4) advances to the championship match for the first time. The Spartans face No. 1 Charles City for the title at noon Saturday. The Comets (44-1) handled No. 4 Waverly-Shell Rock in four sets Friday.
They’ve taken down No. 3 (Harlan) and No. 2 (Heelan). So if the Spartans take the title, they certainly will have earned it.
“We’re just as good as any other team,” said Kelsey Cave, who led all attackers with 16 kills. “Rankings don’t mean anything. We’re not scared of anybody.”
They weren’t afraid of Heelan (36-11) and its tradition. The Crusaders were making their 15th straight state appearance.
Once they got their body language turned around, there was no stopping the Spartans.
“We could feel the tension building,” said setter Emma Rickels. “We just had to bring our positive and happy energy.”
Down 9-1 in the third, the Spartans left the huddle, returned the court and rallied fast. They countered with a 9-1 run of their own to tie it at 10-all, then took a 16-12 lead.
Heelan rallied to tie it at 22-22, then Cave smacked two kills and Kelsey Hinrichs added another as the Spartans closed out the set with three of the last four points.
A six-point run in Game 4 gave Solon a 10-6 lead, and it maintained a lead of two points or more the rest of the way. Jordan Runge had the kill for match point.
Runge added 15 kills and Hinrichs recorded 12 as the Spartans enjoyed a 57-43 kill advantage.
Rickels collected 53 assists.
In early August, the 24-year-old Gustin was an assistant coach. But Kurt Trout resigned abruptly on the first day of practice, Gustin applied … and here the Spartans are, playing for the championship.
“I told them we were going to get here,” Gustin said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but we made it.”