CEDAR RAPIDS — Mark down the date. Wednesday was the day.
It will be remembered as the day that Iowa City Liberty crossed the border and moved into the land of the state’s volleyball elite. And the day that Cassidy Hartman became a bona fide superstar.
A sophomore hitter, Hartman clubbed 35 kills, and fifth-ranked Liberty outlasted No. 1 West Des Moines Dowling in a Class 5A five-set state semifinal thriller (25-19, 23-25, 25-15, 23-25, 15-12) at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
“That girl ... she’s my best friend, and she’s an absolute beast,” Liberty’s Sam Harvey said. “Oh my gosh, I have so much emotion right now. I’m just shaking.”
Liberty (24-2) jumped to an 8-1 lead in the final set, then held on after Dowling (22-3) stormed back within one point on a pair of instances late.
It was 13-12 before Hartman closed it out with her 34th and 35th kills.
“We were able to keep them honest with our other kids,” Liberty Coach Randy Dolson said. “But when it got to the end and she got back to the front row, we were going to let her finish the match.”
As a result, Liberty advances to the 5A state final in only its fourth year of existence. The Lightning will face No. 2 Ankeny (21-2) at 10 a.m. Thursday.
“It’s really rewarding,” said setter Haley Hested, who has been a vital cog from the start. “We’ve built this from the ground up.”
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Liberty has avenged both of its regular-season losses this week. They took down West Des Moines Valley in the quarterfinals, then took care of the Maroons two days later.
“We played them really, really early (Sept. 3), and we didn’t have our strongest lineup yet,” Hested said. “People were uncomfortable in their positions then.”
They’re comfortable now, particularly Hartman.
“We’ve really improved as a team,” Hartman said. “This has been a goal from the start. But still, this is an insane feeling, so incredible, just to see how far we’ve come.”
Hartman had a hot hand throughout, recording her first kill for the Lightning’s second point of the match. She had only five errors in 66 swings, compiling a .455 kill efficiency.
“After a couple of swings, I could tell it was going to be a good day and I was able to trust myself to swing my hardest,” she said.
Down 13-8 in the opener, Liberty took control with a 12-1 run. The Lightning almost stole Game 2, scoring five straight to get even at 21-21 before the Maroons regained the edge.
The Lightning led Game 3 throughout, then Dowling scored the final three points of Game 4 to wipe out a 23-22 deficit and force a fifth.
Hartman had four kills in Liberty’s 8-1 start before Dowling whittled away. The Maroons got within 10-7, then 11-9, then 12-11 and 13-12.
But Hartman, and the Lightning, had the final word.
Harvey added 10 kills, and Kennedy Daugherty posted eight. Hested recorded 35 assists.
Lauren Havlik paced Dowling with 16 kills.
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