CEDAR RAPIDS — Phyona Schrader and her teammates didn’t look at all defeated.
The Ankeny senior setter said losing an epic fourth set to Pleasant Valley in Wednesday’s Class 5A semifinal, where the Hawkettes squandered two match points, made the team even more determined.
“I think it gave us fuel honestly,” she said of the loss in the 28-26 set. “We were so ready to win that fourth set, and when we didn’t, it made us even more excited to go out and play the fifth game.”
Schrader and her teammates were more than up to the challenge, jumping to a 9-2 lead, then going on to complete a 25-15, 19-25, 25-22, 26-28, 15-7 win over the No. 3 Spartans (21-2) at Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
The No. 2 Hawkettes (21-2), ousted in the semifinals last year, will seek their fifth state title under Coach Dave Whims on Thursday when they meet Iowa City Liberty at 10 a.m. in the title match. The fifth-ranked Lightning advanced with a five-set win over No. 1 West Des Moines Dowling.
“I would say working together as a team and having confidence in ourselves, knowing we could win was the difference,” said Ankeny senior Ava Reynolds of the fifth set performance. “Keeping our energy high and going at it really hard from the start was important.”
Whims said the key to winning any fifth set is a strong start.
“I like to cut it down into three five-point games, beat them to five, beat them to 10 then get to 15,” he said. “Sometimes a team gets to five or 10 and can tighten up and let the opponent back in. We didn’t do that.”
It didn’t hurt that Whims has a veteran team with five returning starters, led by Schrader, who will play collegiately at Notre Dame. She finished with 40 assists, 12 kills and 15 digs. She was at her best in the final set, consistently finding holes in the Spartan block.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“It was fun,” Schrader said. “We were playing for the love of the game and I think that showed.”
Ankeny had a balanced attack. Reynolds led the offense with 17 kills. Hannah Baier added 12 while freshman Aowyn Schrader also had 12. Lexi Stephens had 29 digs.
Chloe Kline led the Spartans with 14 kills. Arra Cottrell added 11. Junior setter Kora Ruff had 42 assists and 31 digs.
Reynolds said the Hawks are ready to take that final step.
“We’re really excited,” Reynolds said about playing in the finals. “Our goal was to get better than last year and now we have a chance to win a title.”