This wasn’t the most likely regional-final opponent the Marion Indians figured to face.
And probably not the second most likely.
“I actually thought it would be Oskaloosa,” said Marion volleyball coach Roxanne Paulsen. “Carlisle is a bit of a surprise.”
But the Indians didn’t get caught unprepared.
“We’ve seen each of their last two matches,” Paulsen said. “We’ll be ready.”
Regional finals are Monday in classes 3A, 4A and 5A. Winners advance to the state tournament next week at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
A whopping 12 regional finals feature area teams. Eighth-ranked Marion (29-10), which hosts Carlisle (23-14), is one of four area 4A teams to play as a home favorite.
Second-rated Cedar Rapids Xavier (27-6) faces No. 11 Gilbert (32-12), No. 5 West Delaware (38-5) meets Charles City (19-25), and No. 10 Western Dubuque (21-13) — fresh off an upset of three-time defending state champion Dubuque Wahlert — tangles with Clinton (13-22).
In Class 5A, second-ranked Iowa City Liberty (33-2) takes aim at the first state trip in school history when it hosts No. 11 Dubuque Hempstead (20-13). No. 12 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (20-18) travels to No. 4 Ankeny (35-5), and No. 14 Iowa City High (17-14) is at No. 6 West Des Moines Dowling (31-11).
Class 3A matches are at neutral sites. No. 5 West Liberty (30-7) is the biggest favorite of the five remaining 3A squads; the Comets meet Albia (29-9) at Washington, Iowa.
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In other 3A encounters: No. 7 Mount Vernon (32-10) faces No. 6 New Hampton (40-3) at Jesup, No. 8 Tipton (32-6) meets No. 10 Nevada (32-9) at Van Horne, Independence takes aim at No. 1 Davenport Assumption (31-5) at Iowa City West, and No. 13 Union Community (29-11) draws No. 4 Dike-New Hartford (29-14) at Grundy Center.
All matches start at 7 p.m.
Marion has made a significant stride forward this season after compiling a 20-20 mark in 2018.
“We had some kids last year that weren’t quite ready to carry the team,” Paulsen said. “Most of them have made great strides this year. (Six-foot-2 hitter) Delaney (Rice) has grown into her body, and defensively, we’re a little older and more mature.”
Youth can win, too. Western Dubuque has advanced with an eight-player rotation that has featured two freshmen and three sophomores.
“We’re young, and we knew it was going to take a little while for us to jell,” Bobcats Coach Megan Scherrman said. “I definitely thought this was a team that could do this. They kept their composure against Wahlert from the first point of the match until the 25th point of Game 4.
“They’re just a bunch of ballers.”
The dominant storyline in the area this fall has been the quick rise of Liberty. Coach Randy Dolson has backed off on the reps during the postseason.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to be careful,” he said. “We have a lot of kids that have been fighting illnesses, and it’s happened before that kids get hurt at this point of the season.
“It’s been a really nice season, a special season. And I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize anything.”
Dolson was the coach at Hempstead from 2007 through 2013, taking six teams to state in that span.
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“I’ve been around quite a bit and have some nice friends up there,” he said. “But I’m at a different place now, and it’s just another opponent to me.”
Monday's area Class 5A regional finals
No. 14 Iowa City High (17-14) at No. 6 West Des Moines Dowling (31-11)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at West Des Moines
Overview: City High has reached the regional-final round for the second straight year of Tricia Carty’s young tenure as head coach. The Little Hawks bowed at Cedar Rapids Jefferson last season. City advanced with a regional-semifinal sweep of Iowa City West and have a gem in Kelsey Law, who leads all 5A hitters with 4.87 per set (with a .319 kill efficiency). Dowling brings back six starters from last year’s state-tournament team and is chasing its eighth straight trip to state. The Maroons have won 13 of their last 15 matches.
No. 12 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (20-18) at No. 4 Ankeny (35-5)
Time & site: 7 p.m., Ankeny
Overview: After back-to-back losing seasons, Kennedy has gotten back on the positive side of .500 under first-year head coach Robin Fonck. The Cougars swept Ames in the previous round and stand one step away from their first trip downtown since 2015. It’s a significant hurdle, though. Ankeny has five starters back from last year’s state-qualifying squad, and that doesn’t include leading hitter Ava Reynolds, a sophomore. Dave Whims has come out of retirement to guide the Hawks, and has climbed over the 1,000-win career mark. Katie Jensen averages 2.94 kills per set for Kennedy.
No. 11 Dubuque Hempstead (20-13) at No. 2 Iowa City Liberty (33-2)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at North Liberty
Overview: Liberty’s third volleyball season has been beyond memorable. The Lightning’s ascent to state powerhouse is ahead of schedule; their list of victims includes established programs like West Des Moines Dowling, Ankeny and Cedar Rapids Xavier. The top hitters are a veteran (LeeAnn Potter) and a freshman (Cassidy Hartmann). Rylee Fay and Haley Hested share the setting roles. Liberty Coach Randy Dolson spent seven seasons at Hempstead (2007-13), with six state appearances. Corinne Meier (3.70 kills per set) is the Mustangs’ featured hitter.
Monday's area Class 4A regional finals
No. 11 Gilbert (32-12) at No. 2 Cedar Rapids Xavier (27-6)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Cedar Rapids Xavier
Overview: Xavier has reached unprecedented heights in the four-year rule of Austin Filer — a 120-35 record, three Final Four appearances at state, including a runner-up finish last year. All that’s missing is a championship, and the Saints are capable of a title run this fall. First things first, though. The top three hitters (Eve Magill, Elyse Winter and Katy Garrison) are juniors, as is setter/libero Jazmine Yamilkoski. Gilbert is seeking its first state trip and has advanced despite four losses in its last seven matches. Thea Rotto and Haleigh Hadley average more than 2 kills per set.
Carlisle (23-14) at No. 8 Marion (29-10)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Marion
Overview: The bottom half of the regional draw included No. 13 Oskaloosa and No. 12 Knoxville, and Carlisle beat both of them on the road. No such bracket-busting on the other side; Marion went about its business and swept Pella in the regional semifinals. The Indians are after their fourth state appearance in the last six years and their attack is led by Delaney Rice (3.57 kills per set, .344 efficiency). Avery Van Hook and Elise Mehaffy share the setting duties. Seniors Meredith Hoffman and Molly Heekstra are big hitters for the Indians, combining for 7.52 kills per set.
Charles City (19-25) at No. 5 West Delaware (38-5)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Manchester
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Overview: The beat goes on at West Delaware, the most consistent winner in the area. The Hawks are favored to advance to state for the 12th time in the last 17 seasons under Coach Brett Mather, who owns a 840-206 record. That includes a quarterfinal appearance last year. Macey Kleitsch is a returning first-team all-state setter and averages 8.82 assists per set, most of them to the trio of Ava Hauser, Kinley Kolbet and Allison Collier. Charles City won a pair of road matches to get to this point, against Mason City and Center Point-Urbana.
Clinton (13-22) at No. 10 Western Dubuque (21-13)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Epworth
Overview: In terms of rankings, Western Dubuque’s regional-semifinal conquest of No. 7 Dubuque Wahlert wasn’t a giant upset. But in terms of tradition, you bet it was. The Bobcats took down the three-time defending 4A state champs behind 16 kills by Maddie Harris and 15 by Meredith Bahl. Both are sophomores, as is setter Madison Maahs. The young Bobcats have won 11 of their last 14 matches. Clinton pulled off a pair of road upsets to get here, at Maquoketa and at No. 14 Clear Creek Amana. The River Queens are senior-dominant and balanced.
Monday's area Class 3A regional finals
No. 13 Union Community (29-11) vs. No. 4 Dike-New Hartford (29-14)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Grundy Center
Overview: Union will try to reverse a 3-0 loss to DNH, suffered Oct. 8. That was the last of a five-match losing streak suffered by the Knights, who have since won 11 of their last 13 matches. This encounter features two of the top hitters in Class 3A. DNH senior Morgan Weber leads the class at 5.46 kills per set while Union’s Belle Weber is ninth at 4.64 (with a .397 hitting efficiency). A win would put DNH in the state tournament for the 13th straight year, and the Wolverines have won five state titles since 2011, all in 2A.
No. 7 Mount Vernon (32-10) vs. No. 6 New Hampton (40-3)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Jesup
Overview: Mount Vernon survived a two-set deficit to avoid what would have been a shocking regional-semifinal loss to Jesup, and the Mustangs must bring a better showing Monday if they want to advance to state for the 11th time in the last 13 years. The Mustangs are a junior-dominated outfit that got stronger with the arrival of Lauren Schrock (3.97 kills per set). It took a while for the Mustangs to click, but they have won 18 of their last 20 matches, including a Wamac Conference tournament title. New Hampton reached the state tournament last year and is unbeaten against 3A competition this season.
Independence (29-11) vs. No. 1 Davenport Assumption (31-5)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Iowa City West
Overview: It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Independence after advancing to the 4A state tournament last year, but here the Mustangs are. Indee held off Monticello in a four-set regional semifinal; Reese Martin collected 15 kills and Allie Jo Zieser added 14. They are part of a balanced Indee attack. Assumption’s top hitter is freshman Ava Schubert, who averages 3.03 kills per set. Assumption lost three of its last four regular-season matches, but has regrouped. The Knights beat Benton Community in four sets in their regional semifinal.
No. 8 Tipton (32-6) vs. No. 10 Nevada (32-9)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Van Horne
Overview: To advance to state for the third straight year, Tipton must cool a Nevada club that has won 18 of its last 19 matches. The Tigers were 3A runners-up last year and return the reigning 3A player of the year in Sommer Daniel, who has recorded the rare feat of 1,000 kills, assists and digs in a career. Her numbers this year: 3.81 kills, 4.37 assists and 2.70 digs per set. Nevada seeks its first state trip since 2016; the Cubs won the 3A title in 2015. Kacie Rewerts averaged 4.40 kills per set to pace the Cubs.
No. 5 West Liberty (30-7) vs. Albia (29-9)
Time & site: 7 p.m., at Washington
Overview: Of the area’s five 3A regional finalists, West Liberty is the most likely victor. The Comets enter with eight straight wins and won the River Valley Conference tournament. Macy Daufeldt (4.75 kills per set) and Martha Pace (3.86) lead the attack, and freshman Monica Morales is third in 3A with 5.29 digs per set. Albia suffered through a rough late 1-5 stretch, but has followed that with four straight wins. Abbey Griffin (4.97 kills per set) is the focal point of the Lady Dees’ attack.
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