CEDAR RAPIDS – East Mills believed this was its time to get back into the match.
After dropping the opener, the Wolverines raced to a 12-6 lead in the second set, and senior libero Kassidy Croghan liked what she was seeing.
“We just put everything together,’’ she said. “The hits were good, the passes were good, the sets were good. We were just at our top playing ability.’’
And then, suddenly, they weren’t. East Mills began to struggle receiving serve, and it never really recovered. Second-rated Le Mars Gehlen closed the second set on a 19-2 run and went on to eliminate No. 8 East Mills 25-17, 25-14, 25-20 in a Class 1-A state volleyball quarterfinal at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Gehlen finished with 16 aces. Katie Peters led the way with six, followed by Aubree Nilles (five) and Anna Britt (four).
“Everything was going well,’’ East Mills coach Connie Blank said. “Our passing, hitting. They were on. They get excited. And then we just had trouble passing the ball there. At first it was not moving our feet, and then the confidence level went down.’’
Second-seeded Gehlen (28-4), last year’s state runner-up, advanced to Thursday’s 6 p.m. semifinal against third-rated, third-seeded Fort Madison Holy Trinity (36-3).
In its second straight state appearance, East Mills ended at 28-6, which was a school record for victories.
“I love this team,’’ Blank said. “They love each other. We have this E.L.E. – Everybody Love Everybody — on the team. We’re pretty close knit. They play well together and they believe in each other, and it’s just been a great ride.’’
In addition to its serving prowess, the performances of Jays middles Peters and Katelyn Langel were too much for the Wolverines to overcome. Peters, a 6-foot senior, had 13 kills and hit .500, while Langel, a 5-8 senior, added 10 kills and hit .412. And it wasn’t a fluke. Peters is hitting .401 on the season and Langel .511.
Gehlen coach Mike Meyer said he knew his team would have to be sharp to advance.
“They’ve got a couple of really strong hitters in the middle and on the left side, 14 (Alex Knop) and 15 (Rachel Drake),’’ he said. “We knew we’d probably have to key on them a little, and I think our balance is what made a lot of difference.’’
East Mills stayed in contention for most of the third set. It trailed 17-15 after an ace by Lexi Ungry and a kill by Kaylor Horgdal. But the Jays went on another run and closed out the 60-minute match.
Knop, a 5-9 junior, led East Mills with 10 kills and eight digs. Drake added five kills, but the Wolverines hit just .068 as a team.
“I’m definitely proud of the team we have become,’’ Knop said. “Like Coach said, five years ago, East Mills wasn’t the team we are today. We’ve made it to state, back to back. Hopefully we’ll be back next year.’’
Croghan shared the team lead with eight digs. She’ll graduate along with middle Madison Williams and reserve Kinley Chickering.
“I’m just truly proud of my team,’’ Croghan said. “I’m glad I could be a leader for them. I’m glad that I could be their teammate, because there’s nothing better than knowing that I’ve made a positive effect on someone’s life.’’
East Mills (28-6) 17 14 20
Le Mars Gehlen (28-4) 25 25 25
EM (kills-aces-blocks): Ebonee Drake 0-0-0, Randi Knop 2-0-0, Madison Williams 1-1-0, Dezirae Drake 1-0-0, Lexi Ungry 0-1-0, Kaylor Horgdal 2-0-0, Alex Knop 10-0-0, Rachel Drake 5-0-1, Kassidy Croghan 0-1-0.
G (kills-aces-blocks): Abby Ruhland 0-0-0, Kate Hill 0-0-0, Kennedy Ruhland 0-0-0, Brooklyn Heissel 5-0-0, Katelyn Langel 10-0-1, Anna Britt 0-4-0, Molly Roder 2-0-0, Sydney Livermore 3-0-1, Rachel Langel 1-0-1, Aubree Nilles 3-5-0, Katie Peters 13-6-0, Allison Ruden 1-0-1, Chloe Bunkers 0-1-0.
Set assists: EM, D. Drake 10, Ungry 6, R. Knop 2; G, Livermore 18, Britt 10, Bunkers 2, K. Langel 1. Digs: EM, Croghan 8, A. Knop 8, Ungry 5, D. Drake 4, E. Drake 2, Williams 2, R. Knop 1, R. Drake 1; G, Bunkers 12, Britt 4, Livermore 4, Nilles 4, Heissel 2, Peters 2, Ruden 1, R. Langel 1.