CEDAR RAPIDS — It was an upset in seed only.
It is difficult to consider any volleyball team an underdog with a player like Morgan Middleton on its front line.
“It felt amazing,” Middleton said after she broke the Class 2A state volleyball tournament record with 34 kills as No. 7 Clarion CGD swept fourth-ranked Wilton, 25-23, 25-20, 25-17, in a 2A state quarterfinal match Wednesday at the U.S. Cellular Center. “We were really just ready to go right away and get in that mindset of it is just any other game we are playing. Nothing too nerve-wracking, just come in and play our normal game. I felt like not only did we play our normal game, we played even better than we usually do.”
Still just a junior, Middleton now has 560 kills this season, which ranks second in 2A and is fourth across all classes. Middleton is the career leader in kills for the North Central Conference and has verbally committed to play volleyball at North Dakota State.
“She is a workhorse,” CGD Coach Katrina TerHark said. “She just comes out and works hard every day in practice. She just always is doing her best. She plays pretty much all year round like a lot of the girls do. From last year to this year, she really has improved and sees the court just so well. That has helped her game.”
The state tournament victory was the first in school history for CGD (30-6), which also earned its first 30-win season. Last year, the Cowgirls competed in Class 3A and were swept out of the first round at state by eventual champion Carroll Kuemper. Now, CGD will appear in a state semifinal match for the first time Thursday at 4 p.m. against No. 2 Dyersville Beckman (41-8).
“Once again, a relentless attitude is what is going to get us there,” said junior outside hitter Kendall Lienemann, who posted 12 kills and 13 digs. “Just over and over, drilling into our heads. We’re confident and we are ready to go.”
After convincing CGD wins in each of the first two sets, Wilton (35-4) took control in Set 3 by scoring seven of the first eight points and eventually pushed its lead to 14-8. After a CGD point, junior defensive specialist Jadyn Jondle stepped to the back line and proceeded to put on a serving clinic. Jondle delivered five aces, and whichever serves Wilton could corral were quickly put away by Middleton.
The 9-0 CGD burst gave the Cowgirls the lead for good.
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“I had to be a little tricky to throw them off,” Jondle said. “I was just focusing. I knew I had to get them in, at least. It was kind of a toss-up between you know it had to be hard and get it in. I just felt really confident and the entire time I was trying to tell my team, ‘Keep your heads up. We have done this before.’ I just felt really confident going back on the serving line knowing we could do it.”
Ella Caffery led Wilton with 13 kills.
Jondle paced the Cowgirls with 15 digs, while CGD junior setter Alaina Freisleben led all players with 42 assists.