Prep Volleyball

For Cedar Rapids Jefferson volleyball, success has made for a fast season

J-Hawks want to extend it and reach first state tourney since '97

Cedar Rapids Jefferson's Maddie Slagle and Kaylee Donner defend during the Mississippi Valley Conference volleyball tournament Oct. 14. The fourth-ranked J-Hawks host Johnston in a Class 5A regional final Monday. If Jefferson wins, it advances to state for the first time since 1997. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Jefferson's Maddie Slagle and Kaylee Donner defend during the Mississippi Valley Conference volleyball tournament Oct. 14. The fourth-ranked J-Hawks host Johnston in a Class 5A regional final Monday. If Jefferson wins, it advances to state for the first time since 1997. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Time has flown for Amy Norton this fall. And that’s a good thing.

“It seems like we just got back from team camp,” said Norton, the volleyball coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. “We knew we had the skills to have a good team, but everything has come together.

Jefferson’s dream season can get even dreamier Monday night; the fourth-ranked J-Hawks (38-6) host Johnston (15-20) at 7 p.m. for a Class 5A state-tournament berth, an accomplishment the program hasn’t achieved in 20 years.

It’s one of eight regional finals that involve area teams. Elsewhere in 5A, No. 5 Linn-Mar (29-10) hosts No. 13 Waukee (26-20), and No. 11 Iowa City West (22-15) goes to No. 6 Dubuque Hempstead (27-7).

The top-ranked team all season in 4A, Cedar Rapids Xavier (30-9) entertains Fort Madison (25-7) at Ron Thillen Gymnasium while No. 12 Independence (32-8) is at No. 7 Center Point-Urbana in a battle of Wamac Conference West Division foes.

In Class 3A, No. 4 Mount Vernon (26-10) shoots for its sixth straight state trip when it tackles No. 12 Iowa Falls-Alden (30-5). On the other end of the spectrum, No. 8 Tipton (31-6) seeks its first berth in school history, against Davis County (17-22). No. 9 Dyersville Beckman (30-12) faces No. 7 Davenport Assumption (25-8) at Anamosa.

For Monday’s winners, the next destination is the U.S. Cellular Center, Nov. 7-10.

Jefferson has more than doubled its win output after an 18-18 campaign last year, and captured the MVC Mississippi Division title.

“We work a lot on first contact, serving and serve reception,” Norton said. “That really makes us go.”

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As you’d expect from a program that hasn’t made it to state for a long time, interest is high at Jefferson.

“The support we’ve had at school, it’s phenomenal,” Norton said. “A lot of people have noticed us and are pulling for us.”

Because it’s the end of the first academic quarter, and because of two days of professional development for the teachers, Linn-Mar hasn’t been in class since Wednesday.

“Five days off of school, it’s coming at a most inopportune time,” junior setter Megan Renner said after the Lions swept Cedar Rapids Prairie in a regional semifinal Tuesday. “We’re going to have to find ways to overcome it.”

Still, the Lions are fairly substantial favorites.

“(Waukee) has beaten some strong teams and lost to some weak teams,” Lions Coach Teresa Bair said. “We’ll watch film and be ready to go.”

Monday's regional volleyball finals

(All 7 p.m.)

CLASS 5A

Johnston (15-20) at No. 4 Cedar Rapids Jefferson (38-6)

Overview — A memorable season for the J-Hawks can become even more so if they take care of business and advance to state. It would be their first trip in 20 years. University of Iowa commit Maddie Slagle (2.98 kills per set) spearheads a balanced attack that also features Sydney Kloubec (2.65) and Lindsey Culver (2.32). Setter Maddy Baxter is second in 5A in assists (9.39 per set) and UNI recruit Kaylee Donner is among the state’s most reliable passers. Perennially a very competitive program, Johnson has suffered through a down year but remains dangerous. The Dragons knocked off Des Moines Roosevelt in the regional semifinals and are led by Regan Nesheim (2.93 kills per set).

No. 13 Waukee (26-20) at No. 5 Linn-Mar (29-10)

Overview — Linn-Mar reached the state quarterfinals last year and has most of its weapons back from that team, led by junior setter Megan Renner, a Purdue recruit, and UNI commit Carly Spies. Slowed by a foot injury early in the season, Spies leads the team with 2.34 kills per set, and is getting more than adequate support from hitters Ellie Von Lehmden and Anna Gorsich. Coach Teresa Bair went over the 700-win plateau early this season. Junior Haley Bush leads the Waukee attack at 3.11 kills per set. The Warriors are seeking their first state trip since 2011.

No. 11 Iowa City West (22-15) at No. 6 Dubuque Hempstead (27-7)

Overview — These teams played once this season, in the Dubuque Invitational, and West won a three-setter (15-11 in the third). West is shooting for its fourth consecutive state appearance while Hempstead is trying to make it three in a row and six in the last seven years. Longtime assistant Scott Sanders took the reins this season, and has kept the program humming. Colby Greene has been the Women of Troy’s go-to hitter; the Southeast Missouri commit averages 3.22 kills peer set with a .300 kill efficiency. Hempstead sophomore Jada Wills ranks second in 5A in kills per set (4.55), and hits at a .369 rate.

CLASS 4A

No. 12 Independence (32-8) at No. 7 Center Point-Urbana (32-10)

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Overview — It’s the third meeting of the season between these Wamac Conference West Division rivals, and CPU won both of the first two via sweep. The match pits two of the best 4A hitters in the area: Indee junior Madison Larson is fourth in the class in kills per set (4.15) and owns a kill efficiency of .429. CPU’s Abbey Weideman is at 3.94 and .315. The Mustangs are coming off a big win in the regional semifinals, outlasting No. 11 Marion in four sets. CPU last made the state tournament in 2015 as a 3A team; Independence’s most recent berth was in 3A in 2013.

Fort Madison (25-7) at No. 1 Cedar Rapids Xavier (30-9)

Overview — The top-ranked team in 4A all season, Xavier is heavily favored to return to state after a semifinal finish last season. The program has lifted off in Austin Filer’s two seasons, recording a 61-18 mark. Charlotte Richards was a first-team all-stater last season, and averages 4.02 kills with a .304 hitting efficiency this season. Fort Madison is the Southeast Conference champion, and is seeking its first trip to the state tournament in school history. Amber Dilsaver averages 4.07 kills per set with a .331 kill rate for the Bloodhounds.

CLASS 3A

No. 4 Mount Vernon (26-10) vs. No. 12 Iowa Falls-Alden (30-5), at Tama

Overview — Mount Vernon is a state-tournament regular, advancing downtown in nine of the last 10 seasons, including each of the last five. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season after a heavy graduation toll, but the Mustangs won the Wamac Conference East Division title. Three starters are back from last year’s semifinal team — hitters Rory Light and Catherine Yeoman and setter Bailey Sullivan. Iowa Falls-Alden had to rally to outlast West Marshall in a five-set regional semifinal. Jackie Timm leads the Cadets at 2.34 kills per set.

No. 9 Dyersville Beckman (30-12) vs. No. 7 Davenport Assumption (25-8), at Anamosa

Overview — Beckman comes into this match with nine wins in its last 10 matches, a stretch that included a runner-up finish at the Wamac Conference tournament. The Blazers are a junior-dominated group led by hitters Isabelle Bennett and Ellie Bildstein, as well as setter Sydney Steffen. Todd Troutman, who took Beckman to the first four of their five state-tournament appearances, is back as head coach. Assumption was a state qualifier last year and has three starters back including 6-foot outside hitter Lindsay Stratman (3.30 kills per set).

No. 8 Tipton (31-6) vs. Davis County (17-22), at Williamsburg

Overview — The champion of the River Valley Conference South Division, Tipton has enjoyed a record season for victories and now pursues its first state tournament in school history. The Tigers are still young with a roster filled primarily with juniors and sophomores. Soph Sommer Daniel leads the team in kills (4.08 per set), which is even more impressive when you figure she spends half of her time as a setter. Davis County has been under .500 all season, but enters with a four-match winning streak. Bailea Yahnke paces the Mustangs at 3.43 kills per set.

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

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