CEDAR RAPIDS — Carroll Kuemper sure looks the part of a defending state champion that has been through some battles.
Six-foot-3 senior middle hitter Kara Peter leads a quartet of players who helped the second-ranked Knights win their first state title last season and they are back at the U.S. Cellular Center with some new faces fighting for a repeat.
“It was just a lot of trust,” said Peter, who posted a match-high 30 kills as Carroll Kuemper outlasted No. 12 Unity Christian, 25-18, 25-23, 22-25, 30-28, in a Class 3A state quarterfinal match Wednesday. “Trust in my other teammates, trust in my setters, trust in myself and having the younger girls step up and do their job. Everyone did their job well today and I am just so proud of us.”
Carroll Kuemper (36-4) appeared to be on the verge of a quick sweep after dominating the first set, then breaking a 23-23 tie in the second with a pair of kills from senior outside hitter Anna Niehaus, who posted 20 kills. Unity Christian — the 2A state runner-up last season that now competes in 3A — avoided the sweep with a strong win in Set 3, then was poised to force a winner-take-all fifth set by surging to a 24-19 advantage in Set 4.
“We have seen a lot last year with fifth sets,” Niehaus said. “Our second game at state, it was very, very close. That was very scary, so coming here we knew we had that fifth set as a cushion, but we knew we could not get into that fifth set, because it would just be a mess. We knew we just had to win and push.”
Carroll Kuemper leaned on Peter, a Drake recruit and all-state selection last season who promptly delivered four kills in a row to get her team within one at 24-23. A Niehaus ace tied it before Carroll Kuemper denied three more Unity Christian set-point opportunities. Peter’s 30th kill ended it.
“Mallory (Badding), my libero, she is telling me where to go,” Peter said. “And I am like, ‘I trust you.’ And it works. Those are all on her. Sophie (Badding), our other hitters, they are being loud, making up the block late, giving me a one-on-one. Everyone else had a role in getting those kills at the end.”
Freshman Gracie Schoonhoven led Unity Christian (34-11) with 18 kills.
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Mallory Badding paced Carroll Kuemper with 16 digs, while senior setter Mariah Naberhaus and freshman setter Ashlyn Badding recorded 30 and 25 assists, respectively.
Mallory Badding, Niehaus, Peter and sophomore Kenya Prescott are one step closer to their second state title in a row. Carroll Kuemper will play a 3A state semifinal Thursday at 2 against No. 3 Red Oak.
“Today I think we played kind of slow and scared,” Peter said. “The environment took a toll. It was kind of weird. I am telling them, tomorrow we have to play harder, smarter, faster. It is not going to be easy whether we play Red Oak or whether we play Nevada. I feel like our nerves were comfortable. This is our house. We are returning champions, so we are just going to have to go and play our game.”