CEDAR RAPIDS — The pressure, Jessica Rinehart said, is off.
“We’ve made the finals,” the Ankeny Centennial volleyball coach said. “Now we can just go out and play.”
Second-ranked Centennial outslugged No. 3 West Des Moines Valley in a talent-filled, five-set Class 5A semifinal thriller (25-16, 24-26, 25-19, 20-25, 17-15) Thursday morning at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“I work up this morning, and I thought, ‘We’re not doing a repeat of last year,’” Centennial’s Devyn Robinson said, in reference to Valley’s semifinal win over the Jaguars last year.
The Jaguars (40-3) flipped last year’s result, and return to the championship match after winning three straight titles from 2014 through 2016.
They’ll face No. 1 Cedar Falls (46-0), a straight-set victor over No. 5 Linn-Mar, at 10 a.m. Friday. Cedar Falls is the defending champion and owns a 75-match winning streak.
“They haven’t really been challenged all year,” Robinson said of the Tigers. “We’re going to try to give it to them.”
Centennial certainly has the personnel. Robinson, a junior committed to Wisconsin, is one of four Jaguars headed to a Division-I program, joining seniors Kenna Sauer (Missouri), Ari Winters (Denver) and Megan Lively (Central Florida).
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Valley (41-4) has talent too, led by Nebraska commit Madi Kubik, arguably the best player in the state. And that made this a showcase.
“It’s hard playing with some of your best friends for the last time,” Kubik said. “And hard playing against them, too.”
Centennial won the odd sets, Valley the evens, setting the stage for a grand finale.
Valley scored the first four points, then Centennial went on a big run for a 12-7 advantage. A pair of blocks by Allison Blythe triggered a comeback as the Tigers got even at 13-13, then 14-14 and 15-15.
Lively’s kill gave Centennial its third match point at 16-15, then Robinson and Winters combined for the clinching block.
“This was a big, big goal,” Sauer said. “This is a really close team, and I’m glad we get to spend one more day together.”
Robinson led the Jaguars with 17 kills, and Sauer added 16. Riley Morgan contributed 48 assists.
Kubik paced Valley with 21 kills. Freshman sister Hayden Kubik added 13.
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