NORTH LIBERTY — Rylee Fay lost her grandmother Monday morning.
“She was my best friend,” Fay said. “She was everything to me. It was just her time to go.”
But there was a volleyball match to play Monday night. There was history to be made. And Fay wasn’t about to crumble mentally.
“I made it a positive thing,” she said. “The whole time I was out there ... every point was for her.”
Fay helped direct Iowa City Liberty’s remarkable growth this fall, and she was in the thick of it all Monday, when the second-ranked Lightning swept No. 11 Dubuque Hempstead (25-21, 25-16, 25-17) in a Class 5A regional final at Liberty High School.
In just its third year of existence, Liberty (34-2) will make its state-tournament debut next Tuesday at the U.S. Cellular Center, Cedar Rapids. The Lightning will face No. 7 Pleasant Valley (29-5) in the first round.
“Considering where we were two years ago, who woulda thunk?” said Lightning Coach Randy Dolson, who will be taking his third different team to state. “This is a great group of kids, and they show so much resilience.”
Liberty served 12 aces, eight in the second set.
“We knew they had a really good hitter (Corinne Meier), and we had to do something to get them out of system,” Liberty libero Addison Schmierer said.
Fay said, “We identified one player, and we went after her the whole time.”
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Liberty was shaky early, spotting Hempstead (20-14) an 8-1 lead in the first set. The Lighting got even at 12-12, then a kill and an ace by LeeAnn Potter highlighted a three-point surge that put Liberty in front for good, 20-18.
A flurry of aces — one by Potter, two by Schmierer, three by Fay, one by Sydney Woods — led to a backbreaking 15-3 spree by the Lightning that put them in command of Game 2, 21-12.
The finale was relatively easy. Liberty got up 9-2 and was never threatened. Woods closed it out with two straight kills.
“We’ve been dreaming of this since the first day of the season,” Woods said. “We made history.”
Woods and freshman Cassidy Hartman led the Lightning with 12 kills apiece. Potter added seven kills. Fay and Haley Hested combined for 33 assists.
Meier paced Hempstead with 11 kills. Becca Lockwood added six.
A Missouri State commit, Fay transferred from Iowa City West to Liberty after last season.
“(Getting to state), this was the plan all along,” she said.
IOWA CITY LIBERTY 3, DUBUQUE HEMPSTEAD 0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-17)
Class 5A Regional Final, at North Liberty
Serving — Hempstead 51-56 (.911), Liberty 65-73 (.890)
Aces — Hempstead 3 (three with 1), Liberty 12 (Rylee Fay, Sydney Woods, LeeAnn Potter 3).
Kills — Hempstead 24 (Corinne Meier 11), Liberty 40 (Sydney Woods, Cassidy Hartman 12).
Assists — Hempstead 24 (Laner Herman 11), Liberty 35 (Haley Hested 17).
Blocks — Hempstead 5 (Becca Lockwood, Leah Moeller 2), Liberty 4 (Hartman 2).
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