CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn-Mar Lions force-fed Cedar Rapids Jefferson another bitter postseason pill.
Running its gameplan — keep the ball away from Kaylee Donner at all costs — to perfection, fifth-ranked Linn-Mar avenged a pair of regular-season defeats, tripping No. 4 Jefferson in four sets (25-19, 21-25, 25-21, 25-20) in a Class 5A quarterfinal at the state volleyball tournament Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We developed that plan last week, and we followed it point by point today,” setter Megan Renner said after the Lions eliminated Jefferson in a first-round state match for the second straight year.
Linn-Mar (32-9) advances to face No. 1 Cedar Falls (45-0) in a semifinal at 10 a.m. Thursday. The defending-champion Tigers swept No. 10 Waukee on Tuesday for their 74th consecutive win.
The Lions were only one of two teams this year to take a set from Cedar Falls, doing it in the semifinals of the Mississippi Valley Conference tournament.
“They’re a very strong team, well-balanced,” Lions Coach Teresa Bair said. “They’re going to come at us with a lot of weapons.”
Linn-Mar’s focus Tuesday was to hit away from Donner, the J-Hawks’ libero extraordinaire. The Lions aimed for Zone 1, an area in the deep right part of the court. And this statistic is telling of the Lions’ success: Jefferson setter Maddy Baxter (25) had more digs than Donner (24).
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“Donner is an incredible back-row player, and we wanted to keep her out of the game as much as we could,” Linn-Mar’s Ellie Von Lehmden said.
Jefferson co-coach Will Norton said, “They were continuously the aggressors. The winner was going to be the team that controlled first contact, and for the most part, that was (Linn-Mar).”
And the J-Hawks (37-7) couldn’t respond.
“If we’d lose a point or two, we’d just shut down,” Jefferson’s Sydney Kloubec said. “We’d think, ‘Well, there goes the game.’”
After splitting the first two sets, the pivotal juncture came in Game 3, when the Lions scored six straight points for an 11-8 lead, and they kept the lead throughout.
Then, in Game 4, Linn-Mar broke an 11-11 tie with five straight points, consisting of two kills from Tori Niemeyer, a kill and a block from Anna Gorsich and an ace from Renner.
“When we got up five points in the fourth set, we just needed to play clean and keep calm,” Gorsich said.
Gorsich led the Lions with 13 kills, and with just one error in 27 swings, she posted a lofty .444 kill efficiency. Von Lehmden added 12 kills, Niemeyer 11. Renner posted 40 assists.
Kloubec paced Jefferson with 18 kills and Baxter contributed 45 assists, but the J-Hawks made 32 attack errors.
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