State runner-up Rebels close out record season in Coralville

Ankeny Christian comeback prevents Gladbrook-Reinbeck from first state title

The Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball team poses with its Class 1A state volleyball runner-up trophy after Thursday’s loss to Ankeny Christian at Xtream Arena in Coralville. The Rebels finished the season with a 34-10 record and a No. 4 ranking/No. 3 seeding. PHOTO COURTESY OF NOAH ROHLFING

Four times, Gladbrook-Reinbeck was one point away from lifting its first state volleyball title. Four times, the Rebels were left wanting.

At the end of the night, it was the Rebels who felt the pain of a shocking defeat while Ankeny Christian Academy celebrated its first title instead.

No. 3 seed Gladbrook-Reinbeck (34-10) lost a 2-0 lead in the match to fall 3-2 (25-21, 25-19, 27-25, 26-24, 15-10) to the No. 4 seed Ankeny Christian Eagles (39-3) Thursday night at Xtream Arena in a match with a very promising start for the Rebels and a heart-wrenching finale.

At the start of the match, there was good back-and-forth action and both teams held slim leads. While never taking a larger lead than three or four points, G-R took control of the set late on and pushed across the finish line 25-21, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the match.

Senior hitter Ava Wyatt had a star turn in the first set with 11 of her match-high 25 kills, setting the tone for the Rebels.

G-R freshman Kennedy Brant, left, puts down one of her 18 kills past Ankeny Christian defender Anna Weathers (21). PHOTO COURTESY OF NOAH ROHLFING

Following the first set, Wyatt said the Eagles made adjustments to their defense that made getting the same contact more difficult.

“They finally moved their defense towards me,” Wyatt said. “They were stopping me a little bit more so Emma had to move the ball around and I was struggling to put it down. It was great that my teammates can still figure it out without me, but I just couldn’t put it down anymore because their defense was blocking me.”

Set two featured another early ACA lead and a G-R comeback, but towards the back end of the set freshman hitter Kennedy Brant and senior Megan Cooley put the Rebels on their back with a number of momentum-changing kills. G-R closed out the set 25-19 and took a commanding edge in the match, one set away from the state title.

Brant had a breakout performance with 17 kills on the night, while Cooley added 18 of her own for G-R.

A smooth third set was set up nicely for the Rebels as they built a 21-14 lead and looked to be in great position to close out the match after an Eagles timeout.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck senior Megan Cooley (17) wipes away the tears as underclassmen Kennedy Brant (14) and Lily Dripps share a sad embrace after the Rebels’ five-set loss to Ankeny Christian Academy on Thursday night in the state volleyball finals at Xtream Arena in Coralville. The Rebels fell in a thrilling match, 21-25, 19-25, 28-26, 26-24, 15-10. PHOTO COURTESY OF NOAH ROHLFING

But the momentum in the match flipped after that timeout and never fully swung back in G-R’s direction. An 8-1 run tied the match at 22 — but two straight points from the Rebels gave them two match points.

Minutes later the set went to ACA 27-25. One opportunity missed.

After the third set, the Rebels’ passing collapsed and made it harder to find holes in the Ankeny Christian defense, Cooley said.

“Sometimes we just let it slip too early and that’s when it goes south,” Cooley said. “When our pass goes south, we can’t get to the ball.”

Set four was hard-fought and tight throughout, with the Rebels taking a 22-19 lead only for the match to again become tied at 22.

Just like in set three, G-R had two match points at 24-22. But four points later the Eagles had forced a fifth and final set, with the Rebels letting the title slip away. ACA made good use of the serve with nine aces and caused issues in serve-recieve all night long for the Rebels.

ACA dominated in the back half of the fifth set as the Rebels got frustrated with an Eagles defense that closed off many of the holes G-R found in the first two sets.

With a 15-10 defeat, the Rebels fell short for the second time in three years at the final hurdle. A season full of records — including a record-tying 34 wins and a state-record 57 assists from senior Emma McClintock — was one head coach Paula Kelley will never forget, as she said goodbye to a group of seniors that made four-straight state tournaments and made the finals twice.

Through the pain of defeat, Kelley said she made sure the seniors knew how much they accomplished.

“They had such a great run,” Kelley said. “This season tying a record for wins and over the last four years that they’ve been running through, the amount of wins this group had is amazing.”