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Three-time defending champion Janesville continues state volleyball dominance

Wildcats sweep Gladbrook-Reinbeck in Class 1A quarterfinal

CEDAR RAPIDS — Janesville’s streak continues.

The Wildcats have captured three straight state titles and their hopes for a fourth remain intact.

Top-ranked Janesville won its 10th straight state tournament match, turning away No. 11 Gladbrook-Reinbeck, 25-14, 25-21, 25-13, in a Class 1A state volleyball quarterfinal Wednesday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.

The stretch started when the current seniors were freshmen.

“We all know there is a huge target on our backs,” Janesville senior and Wichita State recruit Lily Liekweg said. “We just go into practice and work hard every day. This is what we work for.”

The trek started long before they reached the varsity level. This run has been years in the making.

“It means a lot to me,” Thompson said. “We’ve played together for a long, long time. We set our goals high coming into high school. Even in elementary, we were such a competitive group, so it’s really fun to come out here and play with each other.”

Despite their familiarity with the environment and being a heavy favorite, the Wildcats suffered a slow start, falling behind 6-0, 7-1 and 8-2 in the first set. Janesville Coach Shelly Sorensen’s early timeout helped focus the Wildcats.

Janesville (44-5) went on a nine-point run, getting Thompson involved for five of her match-high 20 kills. The Wildcats closed the set with the final eight points, including Thompson kills and two Kennedy Rieken aces, and 11 of the last 12.

Thompson entered the state tournament leading the state with almost five kills per game. She led a powerful line of Wildcat hitters.

“Bree is incredible,” said Liekweg, who had 20 digs and four of the Wildcats’ 16 aces. “I’m passing the ball to our setters so they can set her. I’ve always got her back, so it’s awesome.”

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The Wildcats withstood Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s 8-3 rush in the second, closing with 10 of the final 14 points.

“They just needed to settle down and take care of that first pass,” Sorensen said. “That’s the name of the game so we could get our offense running.

“It wasn’t just the first game. We had a few little streaks like that throughout the match, but they were able to stay composed, settled down, get some digs and turn it into offense for us.”

The state experience helps in those instances and the Wildcats benefit from being battle-tested in the regular season.

“It is huge,” Sorensen said. “They’ve been through this. We play tough competition all year long. Even when they’re down, they have found a way to fight back and just keep going at it.”

Saari Kuehl powered the Rebels, who made their second state appearance in program history. She finished with 17 kills, accounting for seven of the Rebels’ first eight points. She also had kills for the first two points in the second. Gladbrook-Reinbeck finished 28-10.

Janesville advances to a semifinal Thursday at 6 p.m., taking on the winner of No. 4 Starmont and No. 6 Tripoli.

“Ultimately, we need to focus on what is going to happen on our side of the net (and) control the game on our side,” Thompson said. “We’re usually pretty prepared.”

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

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