Prep Volleyball

Surging Iowa City High meets mighty Jefferson for a state volleyball berth

Regional finals are Monday in 5A, 4A and 3A

Iowa City High’s Mackenzie Murphy (left) attacks against Iowa City West on Aug. 21. The Little Hawks face Cedar Rapids Jefferson in a Class 5A volleyball regional final Monday at Jefferson. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa City High’s Mackenzie Murphy (left) attacks against Iowa City West on Aug. 21. The Little Hawks face Cedar Rapids Jefferson in a Class 5A volleyball regional final Monday at Jefferson. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

It was a challenge, Tricia Carty admitted, being thrust into the role of a head coach on short notice.

“Mostly because of the sudden nature,” she said. “It was overwhelming at first, the added responsibility. But I’ve had the support of a lot of people, including a lot of the veteran coaches.”

A longtime volleyball assistant at Iowa City High, Carty was elevated to the role of interim head coach for this season after it was announced that Craig Pitcher was disciplined for out-of-season training issues.

The Little Hawks were so-so early, splitting their first 14 matches. The turning point came at the Dubuque Invitational, at which they reached the championship match.

“We had a different approach that day, Carty said. “And it translated into execution.”

City High has won 17 of its last 22 matches, and the 13th-ranked Little Hawks (24-12) face No. 4 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (36-6) in a Class 5A regional final Monday night. First serve is 7 p.m. at Jefferson.

It’s one of nine regional finals — in 5A, 4A and 3A — involving area teams. Also in 5A, fifth-ranked Linn-Mar (30-9) hosts No. 8 Pleasant Valley (26-7).

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In 4A, the top match is at Manchester, where No. 8 West Delaware (32-10) hosts No. 9 Waverly-Shell Rock (40-8). Second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier (26-8) hosts No. 14 Fairfield (31-5), Marion (20-19) travels to No. 5 Independence (33-6), and Clear Creek Amana (26-14) is at No. 7 Pella.

Class 3A second-ranked Tipton (36-3) is a heavy favorite to return to state; the Tigers face Eddyville EBF (12-21) at Grinnell. No. 9 Mount Vernon (26-15) faces Des Moines Christian (25-7) at Van Horne, and a pair of upstarts — Union Community (29-14) and Clarion CGD (26-8) — collide at Iowa Falls.

Despite City High’s late surge, the Little Hawks are decided underdogs at Jefferson. And it doesn’t help that Kelsey Law is questionable with an ankle injury.

“(Jefferson) has a lot of weapons,” Carty said. “But we’re confident in our lineup either way.”

Linn-Mar is pursuing its third straight state appearance with a veteran squad.

“We have a lot of seniors, and a lot is on the line (Monday),” Lions Coach Teresa Bair said. “It can be a positive with experience, or it can be a negative with nerves.

“But we’re playing well, and I think we’re peaking at the right time.

Former Wamac Conference division rivals, Marion and Independence did not face each other in the regular season. But Indians Coach Roxanne Paulsen is fully aware of Monday’s challenge.

“(Independence is) polished and seasoned, ranked high for a reason,” Paulsen said. “We have to be at the top of our game if we’re going to have a shot.”

Regional finals are Tuesday in 2A and 1A.

Monday's Class 5A regional finals

(All matches, 7 p.m.)

No. 8 Pleasant Valley (26-7) at No. 5 Linn-Mar (30-9)

Teresa Bair has Linn-Mar on the cusp of its third consecutive state tournament; the Lions advanced to the semifinals last season. Purdue University recruit Megan Renner is a multi-option threat. The 6-foot-2 senior leads the team in both kills (2.41 per set) and assists (5.16). Anna Gorsich adds 2.14 kills per set and posts a team-high .354 kill efficiency. Pleasant Valley is a perennially strong program, but hasn’t advanced to state since 2013. The Spartans shared the Mississippi Athletic Conference championship, with junior Erica Brohm (3.41 kills per set, .384 efficiency) leading the way.

No. 13 Iowa City High (24-12) at No. 4 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (36-6)

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City High has found a new gear in the second half of Tricia Carty’s season as an interim coach, winning 19 of its last 24 matches. The Little Hawks will have their hands full with senior-laden Jefferson, the champion of the MVC Valley Division. Five of the J-Hawks’ six losses have come against 5A top-three teams, the other against 2A No. 1 Grundy Center. Jefferson has numerous Division-I recruits, led by setter Maddy Baxter (Drake commit, 9.50 assists per set) and libero Kaylee Donner (UNI, 4.13 digs per set). Sydney Kloubec is the top hitting threat at 3.61 kills per set. City’s top hitter, Kelsey Law (2.90 kills per set) is questionable with an ankle injury, leaving seniors Ellie Evans and Mackenzie Murphy as the hitters to watch.

Monday's Class 4A regional finals

(All matches, 7 p.m.)

No. 9 Waverly-Shell Rock (40-8) at No. 8 West Delaware (32-10)

A pair of perennially strong programs collide in one of Monday’s top 4A matches in the state. West Delaware is seeking its first trip back to state since winning the 2015 championship. The Hawks have an excellent setter in junior Macey Kleitsch (8.62 assists per set), and she likes to get the ball to Claire Demmer (2.95 kills per set, .381 kill efficiency). The match features two of the winningest coaches in state history; EaVon Woodin of Waverly-Shell Rock owns 1,069 career victories while West Delaware’s Brett Mather is at 801. Jessica Jacobs, Jaz Westmoreland and Laura Bates average 2-plus kills per set for WSR. 

Marion (20-19) at No. 5 Independence (33-6)

Formerly Wamac Conference West Division rivals, these teams have not squared off this season. Independence was the Wamac West champion while Marion finished .500 in the East. The Indians rallied from a two-set deficit to upend No. 13 Iowa City Liberty in the regional semifinals, staving off a potential match point in Game 3, then came roaring back. Delaney Rice and Holly Faley are the primary attackers in an offense led by freshman setter Elise Mehaffy. Madison Larson is the unquestioned leader for Independence; the senior is averaging 4.28 kills per set with a lofty .396 kill efficiency. At 10.27 assists per set, Indee setter Holly Cooksley ranks second in 4A.

Clear Creek Amana (26-14) at No. 7 Pella (30-6)

CCA heads to Central Iowa to tangle with the state’s top 4A hitter, Pella’s Emily Holterhaus, a 6-2 middle hitter who is averaging 5.54 kills per set and owns a .416 kill efficiency. The Dutch are favored to advance to state for the fourth consecutive year. CCA snapped a three-match losing streak by sweeping Oskaloosa in the regional semifinals. Freshman Calia Clubb’s 16 kills represented half of the Clippers’ attack. Shauntina Williams is the team’s season leader at 3.06 kills per set. The Clippers’ last state trip came in 2014.

No. 14 Fairfield (31-5) at No. 2 Cedar Rapids Xavier (26-8)

After back-to-back seasons in which it finished 32-10 and reached the 4A state semifinals, the goals are higher this year for Xavier. Like always, the Saints have cut their teeth on a 5A-heavy Mississippi Valley Conference, and are solid favorites to make it downtown again. Much of the Saints’ attack revolves around 6-foot-5 sophomore Eve Magill (4.12 kills per set, .322 kill efficiency), a Creighton commit, and senior Akeela Jefferson (3.84, .257). Fairfield has won 25 of its last 26 matches, including a five-set regional-semifinal triumph at Fort Madison. Allison Godwin (3.46 kills per set) paces the Trojans.

Monday's Class 3A regional finals

(All matches, 7 p.m.)

Union Community (29-14) vs. Clarion CGD (26-8), at Iowa Falls

Regional-semifinal upsets have led to an unlikely pairing here. Union Community had four hitters between 10 and 12 kills in a sweep of No. 5 Center Point-Urbana, and CGD dropped No. 10 Iowa Falls-Alden in five sets. Before Union eliminated CPU, it ousted defending state champion Waterloo Columbus. The Knights are led by Belle Weber, who earned all-state honors last year as a freshman and averaged 4.23 kills per set. CGD has a super soph of its own in Morgan Middleton, who posts 4.72 kills per set and owns a .337 efficiency. 

No. 9 Mount Vernon (26-15) vs. Des Moines Christian (25-7), at Van Horne

Volleyball season just wouldn’t seem right without Mount Vernon advancing deep into the tournament, and the Mustangs got to this point by sweeping Solon convincingly in the regional semis. Mount Vernon is 9-3 in October and has five capable hitters led by Rory Light at 2.59 kills per set. The Mustangs are seeking their 10th state appearance in the last 12 years while DMC is chasing its first in school history. The Lions have three hitters averaging a 2-kill clip or better and are coming off a four-set win over North Polk. 

No. 2 Tipton (36-3) vs. Eddyville EBF (12-21), at Grinnell

Tipton was expected to roll through this region, and has taken care of business so far with sweeps over Mid-Prairie and Williamsburg. The Tigers have won nine straight matches, and their loss to 5A regional finalist Pleasant Valley is the only knock against them in the last 31 matches. Junior Sommer Daniel is a University of Utah recruit and an all-around star, averaging 4.05 kills, 4.62 assists and 3.02 digs per set. Amanda Smith is similarly multi-talented. The Tigers are heavy favorites against a team that had lost 11 of 12 matches before the postseason began.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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