CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Falls Coach Matt Johnson knew exactly what to expect Thursday morning at the U.S. Cellular Center.
His top-ranked volleyball team had played No. 5 Linn-Mar three times before this season and had even lost a set to the Lions.
So when Linn-Mar battled the Tigers point-for-point in the first set of a Class 5A state tournament semifinal, he wasn’t surprised.
“Their style of play is so difficult,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to grind it out, (get) some ugly points.”
Cedar Falls was anything but ugly, however, grinding out a 25-22 win in that first set, then rolling to 25-16 and 25-12 wins in the second and third sets for a sweep of the Lions.
“We spend a lot of time talking about you have to be mentally tough,” Johnson said. “You’ve just got to put pressure on them ... don’t give them anything to hang on to.”
The Tigers (46-0) now go for their second straight state title, putting their 75-match win streak on the line Friday at 10 a.m. against Ankeny Centennial.
Anytime Linn-Mar made a run Thursday, 6-foot-5 junior Alayna Yates put it to a stop, often very aggressively.
“I knew coming into today I needed to focus more on playing my part on the team,” said Yates, who had a match-high 16 kills. “Once Emerson (Green) and I got in our rhythm, a lot of good things happen.”
After Linn-Mar took a 19-15 lead in the first set, those good things pretty-much all went Cedar Falls’ way. The Tigers scored five straight points, then put the set away. They started the second set with a 7-0 run and were up 12-3 and 23-10 before Linn-Mar made short runs. The third set was more of the same, with leads of 4-0, 15-7 and 21-9.
“We played really well and then kind of just didn’t execute our game-plan or didn’t execute the way we’re capable of executing,” Linn-Mar Coach Teresa Bair said. “It had a lot to do with them.”
Bair said it also had a lot to do with Linn-Mar lacking a “killer instinct.”
“The battle has to take place within a person,” she said. “I don’t think we were all on all of those cylinders today.”
Still, Bair cherished every moment with these Lions, who finished the season 32-10.
“They always pushed through, always worked extremely hard to get better,” she said. “Night in and night out, practices were amazing. They were a joy to work with.”
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