It’s a shame that one team had to lose in the Jag-Hawk matchup at the state volleyball tournament on Monday.
Both squads played well enough to win the Class 5A quarterfinal at Xtream Arena in Coralville.
In the end, second-ranked Ankeny Centennial held on for a 25-16, 25-12, 22-25, 14-25, 15-12 victory over No. 7 Ankeny, which nearly overcame a huge deficit with a furious rally.
“The momentum wasn’t on our side there, and we knew we had to step up in that fifth set,” said Centennial junior Delaney Miller, who led the Jaguars with 16 kills. “We wanted to do it for our seniors.”
One of those seniors, Anna Sash, played a massive role in the decisive set. She smashed a pair of kills, followed with a block, and then added another kill to ignite a 7-0 run that gave the Jaguars a 12-4 lead.
“I knew we had to block,” said Sash, who finished with a match-high 12 blocks, including a Class 5A single-match record of seven solo blocks. “I wasn’t happy with how we blocked before, so I went out there and did that. I was fighting for my team and for our season.”
Centennial held a 14-7 lead before the Hawkettes fought off five match points and closed the gap to 14-12 on an ace by Reagan Hanfelt, who led her team with 16 kills, six blocks and three aces.
“We were just really determined to play our hearts out,” said Hanfelt. “Even if it didn’t turn out in our favor, we didn’t want to go home without a fight. I’m just really proud of everyone.”
The Jaguars finally closed out the match on a kill by Sash, her ninth of the day.
“She did amazing,” Centennial junior Jaeden Pratt said of Sash. “She’s the reason we won that match. She closed the blocks, she hit her zones, and she hardly made any errors. She was great.”
Centennial coach Jessica Rinehart switched her lineup around after Ankeny rallied to win the third and fourth sets. It proved to be a smart decision.
“We flipped the lineup because we needed Sash with the experience up front early, and I think that helped us,” Rinehart said. “She did just what I thought she could do. She’s had amazing practices the last two weeks, she’s a senior, and she’s been here and played at state. She was dialed in, and I’ve seen that for the last two weeks. I knew that she was ready to do that.”
The Jaguars (31-6) defeated Ankeny for the third time this season. The Hawkettes finished their first campaign under coach Liz Baethke with a 24-15 record.
“They could have easily shut down completely as flustered as we were coming out of the gate,” said Baethke. “I walked back there (after Set 2) and dug into them a little bit, and they didn’t quit. They came back and fought hard. We just came up a little short.”
Centennial dominated the first two sets. The Jaguars used a seven-point run to take an early 9-2 lead and eventually closed out the opening set on an ace by Mya Lei-Butters.
Then, a 10-1 run in Set 2 erased the Hawkettes’ 5-4 lead and gave Centennial a 14-6 advantage. Miller capped the run with a kill, then later served back-to-back aces to close out the set.
“I was hoping we could win it in three (sets),” Rinehart said. “That was my plan, and I thought we were following that plan until that third game–and then the tides kind of turned.”
Centennial built a 12-9 lead in Set 3 and appeared to be on the verge of a sweep before Ankeny answered with a 10-2 run. Hanfelt tied the score at 13-13 with a kill, then had a pair of blocks to put her team ahead for good.
“When your season is on the line like that, you just find another level of yourself and they just minimized their errors and just kept fighting,” Miller said of the Hawkettes. “They were finding ways to score points, and we knew going into the match that it was going to be a battle. They caught their wind, and I don’t think anyone was really surprised by that at all.”
A kill by Kamryn Scheib closed out the third set.
“The key (to the rally) was our energy and where we placed the ball,” said Scheib, who finished with 14 kills. “You don’t have to hit it as hard as you can. You just have to hit shots.”
In Set 4, Ankeny got an unexpected lift from freshman Marlee Ellison, who had three of her seven kills in a span of four points as the Hawkettes took the lead for good at 7-6.
“I’m not sure Marlee can even identify right now the pressure that was on her as a freshman,” Baethke said.
Ankeny later extended its margin to 21-11 with a 7-0 run that included back-to-back kills by Scheib and a pair of aces from Cloey Wiederin.
“Our ball control got better and we relaxed, so we could reset and organize–and it turned into an awesome match,” Baethke said.
Shortly thereafter, a serve by Miller sailed out of bounds to end the set. The match was now tied.
“They picked it up and started passing better, and that made them harder to defend,” Rinehart said. “And then when they started doing that, we got tight instead of matching their aggressiveness. And so we found ourselves in a fifth game. I just told the girls, ‘It’s 15 more points.’ And I knew they were never going to give up or give in.”
Pratt was confident that her squad could respond to the challenge.
“We’ve been a very resilient team,” she said. “We’ve been in that position before, and it was nothing we couldn’t handle. I think just sticking to our basics and getting out to close the block and funneling the pass to Mya just sealed the deal for us.”
It also helped that Sash decided to take over the match.
“They got some momentum, and we made some unforced errors (in the previous two sets),” Sash said. “We kind of rolled over and died a bit, but I’m glad we came back and got it in the end.”
The Jaguars outhit Ankeny by a .197 to .160 margin. Pratt had 10 kills and 12 digs while completing all 18 of her serves. Ava Kronenberg chipped in eight kills, and Gabby Mixdorf added six more.
Setter Kambria Leazer dished out 39 assists while also contributing four kills, 15 digs and two blocks. She reached the 1,000-assist career mark.
Lei-Butters racked up 26 digs to support Centennial’s blocking effort.
“I think our blocking played such a huge role at the end,” Miller said. “I am so proud of both Anna and Jaeden, and Kam too when she was there, because they absolutely dominated the net there.”
Ava Wille had seven kills and Olivia Eike added five for Ankeny, which also got 22 assists from Lauren Dockendorff and 21 from Wiederin. Baileigh Carlsen had 25 digs.
“I really honestly thought we were going to be in the finals,” Baethke said. “We were gaining momentum, and we had the confidence. We just had that energy. It was unbelievable.”
The Jaguars will play No. 3 Waukee Northwest (25-9) in the Class 5A semifinals on Wednesday at 10:25 a.m. No. 1 Dowling Catholic (31-7) will face No. 4 Pleasant Valley (28-5) in the other semifinal at 10 a.m.
Centennial won both meetings against the Wolves during the regular season.
“It feels great to be moving on,” Pratt said.