Sweep sends No. 1 Janesville to state volleyball semifinals for 8th straight year

Wildcats aiming for fourth title in last five seasons; beat East Mills in opener

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CEDAR RAPIDS – Here come those Janesville Wildcats again, playing a dominant brand of volleyball and having fun doing it.

There were plenty of smiles, high-fives and choreographed ace celebrations to go around as the top-ranked Wildcats swept No. 13 East Mills, 25-10, 25-12, 25-19, in a Class 1A volleyball state quarterfinal Wednesday at the U.S. Cellular Center.

“You just try to keep them loose and remind them why they are playing,” Janesville Coach Shelly Sorensen said. “It’s because they love the game of volleyball. Just focus on doing as many good things as they can and come together as a team.”

Janesville (35-7) has reached the 1A state semifinals for the eighth year in a row. The Wildcats – winners of 20 of 21 matches – will face the winner of fourth-ranked Starmont (30-5) and No. 5 Fort Madison Holy Trinity (37-5) Thursday at 6 p.m. Win there, and the two-time defending state champions will play for a fourth title in five years.

“We’re very fortunate,” Sorensen said. “They do buy into that. Now that we’ve been down here a few years in a row, they set that as their goal every year. Our upperclassmen do a great job of leading the team and we’ve got some new faces in that lineup that got some good experience tonight.”

Janesville junior outside hitter Bree Thompson was particularly dominant. She led the team with 17 kills and nine digs, then energized her teammates with a trio of ace serves that helped the Wildcats to a 25-10 win in Game 1.

“My serve was struggling a little bit at the beginning of the season,” Thompson said. “But I know I’ve just got to get it over and then after a while, after a couple, I can go a little tougher.”

Senior outside hitter Kennedy Meister added 13 kills and seven digs, while junior setter Alisa Bengen totaled 35 assists. Junior libero Lily Liekweg notched eight digs.

“They all bring different things and strengths to the team,” Sorensen said. “When they can get all parts of their game going, we can be pretty tough.”

Alex Knop and Madison Williams led East Mills (24-9) with five kills apiece, while senior middle hitter Gracee Meyer added four.

“They cover really well,” Meyer said. “Wherever we hit, they’re always there. … They played really well.”

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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