CEDAR RAPIDS – Before each serve, Olivia Fain brings the volleyball up to her face and reflects in silent prayer.
Whatever her message, the Waterloo Columbus senior setter was rewarded in spades.
Fain distributed a whopping 55 assists and added 10 digs and four kills as the third-ranked Sailors rallied from match point in Game 3 and eliminated No. 2 Carroll Kuemper, 16-25, 21-25, 29-27, 25-19, 15-11, in a rousing Class 3A state semifinal Thursday at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We finally figured out what we had to do, and that was the key thing,” Fain said. “Five sets is very stressful, but in this case I was glad it went to five because I knew that we deserved that win.”
Waterloo Columbus (35-8) was the state runner-up in Class 2A last season. In their first season as a 3A school, the Sailors will again play in a state championship match Friday at 2:30 p.m. against top-ranked Sioux Center (34-5), which also advanced after falling behind two games to none.
“You know, hell hath no fury like a team scorned,” Waterloo Columbus Coach Hanna Nuss said with a laugh. “I think losing in that state final definitely hurt these girls and we have a lot of returners from that team. Now they kind of know what it takes to get there and get the job done.”
Carroll Kuemper (39-3) posted a convincing win in Game 1, then broke a 21-21 tie with four-straight points to claim the second. With its season wobbling, Waterloo Columbus scratched away from a 14-14 tie with a 9-6 burst in Game 3, but a 5-1 Kuemper run placed the Sailors a point from elimination at 25-24.
“I think we thought we were going to lose the third game,” Waterloo Columbus junior libero Kate Shannon said. “We came back as a team, played together and we got it done.”
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The Sailors rallied with four of six points to extend the match to a fourth game, but maintaining that momentum through a potentially-settled Kuemper squad required even more buy-in and effort.
Columbus led for nearly all of Game 4 and broke a 10-10 tie with 10 of 15 points and the Knights never caught up.
“We just talked consistently about, ‘You’ve just got to outlast, you’ve got to just push past,’” Nuss said. “You could start to see the other team wearing down and we just kept talking to them about, ‘That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.’”
Fain looked up at the student section, pumped her fist and urged them with a, “Come on!” before the winner-take-all fifth game, which went back and forth early. With both teams five points away from advancing at 10-10, the Sailors closed with a 5-1 flurry, capped by a Shannon ace that hit the top lip of the net and dropped to the floor.
“I honestly just went for it,” said Shannon, an Iowa State recruit. “I hit it my hardest. When it hit the floor, it was an incredible feeling.”
Shannon led Waterloo Columbus with 21 digs and three aces. She also notched six assists. Senior outside hitter Anna Sinnott nearly equaled the 3A state-tournament record for kills in a single match with 31.
“All of my kills that I get wouldn’t have been without the pass or without the set from Olivia,” Sinnott said. “I cannot give them enough credit for that because without them, it would be nothing at all.”
Columbus junior middle hitter Sydney Schultz posted 16 kills, while senior deep setter Ana Ortiz tallied 11 digs.
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Without any one member or singular contribution, the Sailors might not be playing for a state title Friday.
“We all love each other immensely,” Fain said. “I don’t want to leave these girls.”
This is the third season in a row that Carroll Kuemper was eliminated in the semifinals. Junior outside hitter Aimee Adams led the Knights with 26 kills, while Kara Peter and Kalee Peter added 19 and 14, respectively.
“They have really good hitters,” Adams said. “Once they got a good hit, they had the lead and we just kind of got tired. The loudness and their crowds all went to their side. All the momentum went to their side. We were just getting frantic again and we wanted it so bad that that we just let it slip.”
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