Prep Volleyball

Cedar Rapids Xavier reaches third straight state volleyball semifinal

Saints sweep Pella

Pella's Jenna Schulte (12) and Kalin Valster (9) try to block a hit by Cedar Rapids Xavier's Akeela Jefferson (8) during a Class 4A quarterfinal at the 2018 Girls' High School State Volleyball Tournament at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Pella's Jenna Schulte (12) and Kalin Valster (9) try to block a hit by Cedar Rapids Xavier's Akeela Jefferson (8) during a Class 4A quarterfinal at the 2018 Girls' High School State Volleyball Tournament at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Xavier could have been content and conceded.

The only problem is the Saints aren’t wired that way. So, when they faced set point twice and the possibility of splitting the first two games, the Saints rattled off three straight points.

Impressive for a team that graduated five starters from a year ago.

“This has been an interesting year where a lot of people weren’t sure exactly what to expect,” Xavier Coach Austin Filer said. “We graduated some amazing seniors in the past couple years that have put us in a great position to great. These kids have really jumped on board and pushed it.

“This is one of the teams we’ve had that just don’t care what the score is. They will fight every point in time. Our kids will fight harder than anybody else and we trust them in clutch times to find a way to get the job done.”

Second-ranked Xavier won the crucial exchanged at the end of the second set and rolled to a sweep of No. 7 Pella, 25-18, 28-26, 25-13, in the Class 4A state volleyball quarterfinal Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Center. The Saints reached the state semifinals for the third straight year.

“I’m really proud how everyone played,” Xavier senior Akeela Jefferson said. “The seniors that had been to state have been mentally preparing everyone because it’s a mind game at state. We stayed mentally tough the whole time.”

Xavier started a bit slow, but produced a 10-point run to take control of the first set. The Saints used a similar run in the second, taking seven in a row for a 14-10 lead.

Pella battled back, winning six points in a stretch of seven, tying the game at 21 apiece and starting a seesaw finish. The teams traded leads four times.

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Magill had kills in three of the Saints’ final four points. The first thwarted the first set point, making it 25-25. Her second evened the game at 26.

Filer said Pella is experienced and has a knack for runs. To trade points and even gain ground was a big turning point.

“We’ve got great servers and trust our kids to put pressure on them,” Filer said. “Our kids executed. They just took care of business.”

After a Pella error gave Xavier the advantage, Magill earned a kill on her third try of the point to end it and propel the Saints into the third.

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“It was just us feeling the energy from each other,” said Magill, who had a game-high 17 kills. “We were working hard together. The team was behind me and supporting me. I knew that no matter what they’d support me.

“I just knew I could be as aggressive as I wanted to and they’d cover me even if I got blocked.”

Senior Emily Jasper had 10 kills that came at crucial times for Xavier. In addition to a kill that sparked the 10-point run in the first, she had three kills to help the Saints get on top in the second and then two kills to make it 22-21 and 23-23. Jasper had kills in a stretch in the third to help take control.

Jasper was effective when Pella focused on the outside hitters and benefited from some of Jaz Yamilkoski’s 38 assists.

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“She’s a complete assassin,” Filer said. “She just sneaks up on teams out of nowhere, like a ninja, and takes care of it.

“This is one of the best matches she’s had. Time after time when they thought the ball was going to go to the outside, she was able to score and that’s against two of the best blockers in the state. She had an amazing match.”

Jefferson was a key for Xavier and she got into a rhythm early. She finished 13 kills and 13 digs.

“She was in a groove and we had to keep getting her the ball,” Filer said. “Sometimes when she gets hot there’s not a block in the country that can stop her.

“It’s great to see Akeela step up and take care of that business.”

Emily Holterhaus had 14 kills and Natalie Clayberg added seven for Pella (31-7).

Expect more of the same from the Saints, who will attempt to get over the hump and punch their ticket to the finals against the winner of No. 3 Dallas Center-Grimes on Thursday at noon.

“We definitely have to continue to push and do things we’re capable of doing,” Filer said. “We are just going to fight. We’re just going to fight a lot harder.

“We had our opportunity last year. We were up big in set 4 and let a team come back and take advantage of that, but this year is going to be a little bit different. We have kids that understand the severity of those moments and how big each point is. We’re going to fight and claw every moment.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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