Prep Volleyball

Burlington Notre Dame's first state volleyball appearance will end in the 1A championship match

After a first-round bye, the Nikes sweep traditional power Gehlen

CEDAR RAPIDS — Katy Stephens said she had “no idea what to expect” this volleyball season.

Surely, she didn’t expect this.

Burlington Notre Dame’s unlikely run will go to the final night. The 14th-ranked Nikes overpowered No. 3 Le Mars Gehlen, 25-19, 25-18, 25-20, in a Class 1A state semifinal Wednesday night at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.

“We were nervous that we weren’t even going be able to play this season,” Stephens said. “The lineup has changed so much.”

The Nikes (18-5) face No. 4 Gladbrook-Reinbeck (34-2) for the 1A championship at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Wednesday was Notre Dame’s state-tournament debut. The Nikes were scheduled to face No. 2 Wapsie Valley in the first round Tuesday, but Wapsie was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to COVID-19.

“It was such a disappointment,” Stephens said. “We really wanted to play that first-round match. We’re kind of afraid of COVID, so we didn’t even come up to watch (the other first-round matches). We’re doing everything we can to avoid being exposed.”

There was no free pass this time. The Nikes went out and earned it, leading through the majority of all three sets.

Traditionally overshadowed in southeast Iowa by Fort Madison Holy Trinity and New London, Notre Dame was bolstered midseason by the addition of the junior twins Josie and Jenna Bentz, who moved in from Illinois and were forced to play junior varsity before being ruled eligible.

Wednesday’s victory was the Nikes’ 13th in a row.

Josie Bentz led the Nikes with 15 kills, and Stephens added 13. Jenna Bentz dished out 32 assists.

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Gehlen (25-6) was making its 11th state appearance in the last 12 years. The Jays rallied from an 18-14 deficit to take a 20-19 lead in the final set, but the Nikes closed the match with six straight points. Stephens started it with a kill, then Josie Bentz added two more.

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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