TIFFIN – You see it in sports movies all the time.
A senior in a key moment in a championship-seeking season steps up and plays hero, carrying the team to victory with a transcendent performance.
Last night in the Class 2A regional final, Iowa City Regina’s Tori Owens had a night fit for the movies, amassing an eye-popping 52 kills en route to the Regals’ 22-25, 25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 15-12 victory.
“It was the biggest match of her career tonight, and it needed to be,” said Regina Coach Megan Eskew. “She knew what we needed from her, and she brought it – just like every other match, every day in practice.
“She was phenomenal. I’ve never seen a player with her kind of mentality. Again and again and again. That’s an amazing player right there.”
Trailing two sets to one headed into the fourth, Eskew told her girls to hit the reset button. She said they had to “play like it was 0-0,” and continue to go with what was working.
What was working was getting the ball to Owens, no matter where she was on the court.
Throughout the fourth and fifth sets, seemingly every offensive play ran through Owens, and she came through in a big way.
“She had to pick it up,” Eskew said. “She had a lot on her shoulders tonight, and she did it like a champ.”
Out of breath and being swarmed by her teammates and classmates, Owens could barely think straight amid the excitement of the Regals’ first state berth since 2003.
Even through the hugs of her parents and tears of joy, she didn’t seem all that impressed with herself.
It was just business as usual.
“I just saw the spots that were open and tried to hit there every time,” Owens said. “Set receiving and passing helped (me) a lot, too.”
From the other side of the net, West Branch Coach Josh Lukavsky couldn’t do much other than shrug his shoulders and shake his head in a bemused sort of way when asked about Owens.
Lukavsky said his team game-planned for the Regina senior, but there was simply no denying her.
“Tori, she really stepped up her game,” Lukavsky said. “That’s who our focus was on. We knew she was going to get the ball a lot. We either couldn’t get our blocks set or our defense where we needed to, and she had an awesome night.”
The Regals needed every bit of that performance from Owens to earn the trip to Cedar Rapids.
With neither team really able to put distance between each other on the scoreboard mid-set, focus within the game became paramount. The teams traded sets until the final two, when Regina took the fourth and fifth for the win.
“When we knew we were playing West Branch, we prepared for battle,” Eskew said. “That’s what we said, ‘It’s going to be a battle on both sides. They’re going to get runs, we’re going to get runs.’
“We prepared for this.”
As happy as the Regals were holding their regional championship banner, they said there won’t be any resting on it.
Fifty-two kills or not, last night is in the past now for Owens and her teammates. It’s nice to get to state, she said, but that’s not all the Regals want from 2013.
Maybe that sports movie night she had against West Branch won’t be the final scene, but rather a climax-building scene with a much more special ending.
“I want to (keep this going) very badly,” Owens said. “Being my last year, this is extra special.
“I don’t want to get to state and lose the first round. I want to keep going.”