ONE WIN AWAY!
Fourth-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck faces Ankeny Christian in search of first state volleyball championship
It’s extremely difficult to beat the same team four times in the same season. Teams adjust and counter each other in every encounter, trying to find the secret formula to get over the hump.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck, however, kept with the same formula from the regular season and shut the door on North Iowa Cedar League rival AGWSR’s attempts to pull off an upset Wednesday night in the Class 1A state volleyball semifinals.
Third-seeded Gladbrook-Reinbeck took a 3-1 victory (25-17, 25-14, 25-20, 25-18) to advance to the state title match for the second time in three seasons, boosted by another strong outing from senior outside hitter Ava Wyatt (game-high 22 kills). It was G-R’s 34th win on the season after a long and winding road back to the title match after falling in last year’s state quarterfinals.
Tonight at 7 p.m. back inside Xtream Arena, the fourth-ranked Rebels (34-9) will face off with first-time qualifier Ankeny Christian Academy (38-3) in search of the state championship after the Eagles knocked off top-ranked Springville in three sets.
At the start of Wednesday’s semifinal, Gladbrook-Reinbeck was feeling confident and pushing the tempo. Emma McClintock, the senior setter, had an efficient first set and Wyatt produced seven early kills. McClintock finished with a match-high 35 assists. Winning 25-17 set an important tone as the Rebels tried to put away an opponent coming off a shocking upset over No. 2 seed North Tama.
McClintock gave credit to the underclassmen for playing well in key moments and getting the team to this position.
“I’m very proud of the underclassmen for stepping up, it’s happened a lot this year,” McClintock said. “No one really expected us to make this far this year, and I’m so proud of them and our team.”
G-R head coach Paula Kelley said the Cougars were so improved by the end of the season that they didn’t look at tape of the three prior head-to-head matchups, but instead went to Tuesday’s match for game-planning.
After a 4-0 run to start the second set for the Cougars, G-R quickly rallied. AGWSR used its timeouts early and the Rebels just continued to pull away. A 25-14 set win put G-R up 2-0 and in a commanding position. It felt like the magic was possibly wearing off for the underdog Cougars — but the third set would prove to be a different story.
G-R went up 9-3 early to force a Cougar timeout. Following the timeout, AGWSR went on a 10-0 run to completely flip the momentum and put itself in position to pull off a stunning 25-20 win. The Rebels still led 2-1, but the match had a different feel about it after a right hook from the Cougars.
Kelley said she was clear in her words to the team and was hopeful the Rebels would power through some issues the Cougars were causing on defense.
“Once we were able to get out of that set and get into the back I told them they just needed to relax and play like we’d been practicing,” Kelley said. “I was struggling trying to figure out how we could change a look in our defense, trying to see if we could change our serve receive and we just couldn’t do that.”
Jumping out to a 9-2 lead in the fourth set only for an AGWSR run to tie up the game at 10-10, G-R’s players could be forgiven for thinking they were in a repeat of the third set. A service error from the Cougars gave the Rebels the ball back in a critical moment, allowing them to catch a breath and center.
There were back-and-forth moments the rest of the way, but from that moment on the Rebels had the inside track.
Wyatt was proud of G-R for holding on in the face of another run from the Cougars.
“We knew how hard it was for us during that third set so we knew we couldn’t let it happen to us again in the fourth,” Wyatt said. “I think once our swings were finally in, that helped to push us through.”
Timely kills from Lily Dripps, Megan Cooley and Kennedy Brant put the Rebels in a position to close out the match. An attack error from AGWSR’s Brynn Smith gave G-R the 25th and final point and the celebration began.
Now the trio of Cooley, Wyatt and McClintock — the seniors Kelley calls “the rock” of their team — are back with a chance to avenge the Rebels’ 2020 state title loss.
Their opponent is Ankeny Christian Academy, which upset No. 1-seed Springville in straight sets to set up a matchup between the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds. The Eagles have won 17 straight matches.
Wyatt said the title game will bring with it mixed emotions, but was excited to get another game on the Rebels’ “revenge tour”.
“The goal is just to leave everything on the court,” Wyatt said. “It’s really bittersweet to think that’s our last game ever, especially with Emma [McClintock] and Megan [Cooley]. I’ve been through everything with them, it’ll be really special.”