Last year, the Ankeny Christian Academy volleyball team made a surprising run to the Class 1A state championship.
Now, the top-ranked Eagles are just win one away from defending their title as a prohibitive favorite.
“It feels amazing,” ACA setter Katie Quick said on Wednesday after the Eagles defeated No. 4 BCLUW in four sets in the Class 1A semifinals. “It’s a little different this year. We’ve been here (before), so we just need to stay confident and calm and know that we can do it.”
The Eagles (38-3) extended their winning streak to 28 matches with a 25-14, 25-20, 16-25, 25-18 victory at Xtream Arena in Coralville. State tournament newcomer BCLUW finished the season at 35-11.
ACA outhit the Comets by a .170 to .132 margin.
“We knew quite a bit about them,” said ACA coach Michele Quick. “We didn’t play them, but we saw them at a tournament earlier this season and we watched quite a bit then. They had a lot of growth between then and now, but we study teams, we study personalities and we study numbers and mannerisms of what they are doing. But sometimes that gets us in trouble, so we focus on what we need to do and how we are going to execute our game.”
Carley Craighead led the Eagles with 17 kills. She returned to the team’s lineup after suffering a severe cramp in her calf during Tuesday’s quarterfinal match against Newell-Fonda.
“That was not a fun experience,” said Craighead. “It was hard to sit on the bench and watch, but I was proud of my team and how they stepped up. And it was so fun to get back out there today.”
Craighead was determined to get back on the court for the semifinal match.
“I drank a lot of fluids–a lot of potassium and electrolytes,” she said. “I’ve been working on it, and my coaches have been taking great care of me.”
Macey Nehring had 12 kills, two aces and 14 digs in the win. Quick racked up 10 kills, 37 assists, two aces and 15 digs.
Anna Weathers contributed nine kills and 15 digs. Libero Riese Gjerde had a team-high 19 digs.
Freshman Olivia Peters led BCLUW with 16 kills. She had three of her kills during a 13-2 run by the Comets that turned an 8-4 deficit into a 17-10 advantage in Set 3.
BCLUW eventually closed out the set when a spike attempt by Quick sailed out of bounds.
“I wasn’t too worried,” Quick said. “I knew that we had the two sets under our belt. We play really well together, and we just had to stay bonded and keep our trust in the Lord that we can come through in those tough times.”
ACA, which also dropped a set against Newell-Fonda, then used an 8-2 run in Set 4 to build a 19-11 margin.
“The girls brought the swagger and the intensity back in that fourth game,” said coach Quick. “They were not going to let that one slip away.”
The Eagles held a 22-13 lead before BCLUW made one final push, reeling off four straight points. But Quick halted the Comets’ run with a well-placed kill on the second touch, something she does as well as any player in the state.
“Sometimes, I just kind of feel it, I guess,” Quick said of going for the kill. “At other times I try to see the court and where the holes are, and if some other things aren’t working for us, I’ll try to go for it in those situations.”
Shortly thereafter, the Eagles advanced to the title match when a spike attempt by BCLUW was off the mark. The Comets were outhit by a .188 to .074 margin in Set 4.
“We were being timid and not being aggressive and hitting like we should (in Set 3), and we made a lot of errors,” Craighead said. “We just had to relax in that fourth set and play our volleyball.”
ACA will play No. 3 Holy Trinity Catholic (33-10) for the Class 1A championship on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Crusaders swept No. 2 Boyden-Hull on Wednesday and have yet to drop a set in the tournament.
“We’ve looked at their rotations and what their setter can do,” coach Quick said. “We know this team wants to take us out, and we don’t want to let that happen. It feels pretty good going into that opportunity again.”
Holy Trinity is a perennial powerhouse in Class 1A. The Crusaders are making their 13th trip to state in 14 seasons and won a championship in 2014 behind Mikaela Foecke, who is being inducted into the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union Volleyball Hall of Fame this week.
But the Eagles are ready for the challenge.
“We’re confident,” Craighead said. “We’ve been waiting so long for this moment. We know that we’re the best team here, and and we just want to go back and win that state title again.”