116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Make it six-for-six for Austin Filer.
Fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier is headed back to the state volleyball tournament for the sixth consecutive season after defeating Norwalk, 25-13, 25-16, 25-12 in a Class 4A regional final Tuesday evening at home.
For Filer, who took over as Xavier head coach in 2016, this marks his sixth state tournament appearance in as many years.
“It’s really important,” Filer said. “I think it shows we have a system that works and coaches and kids that are really committed to the process and willing to give their all.”
Filer had been an assistant coach at Mount Mercy before accepting the position at Xavier. At the time Filer took the job, the Saints were coming off a 15-21-1 season.
He, and the players, quickly turned things around as the team finished with a 34-10 record in his first year.
“I think we came in and we set the bar really high (in 2016),” Filer said. “We said, ‘I think we can do that.’ But at that point in time, it was uncharted waters. They’d just come off a losing season, we didn’t know how far we could push them.
“And they made a fantastic run and it’s just been part of our culture now.”
Adding intrigue to this year’s state tournament run is that Xavier (29-4) has been defending its state title. Despite losing several key players from the 2020 team, Filer has plenty of confidence in this year’s group of seniors stepping up.
“They’re fantastic,” Filer said. “They’ve bought in and they’ve sat ready to go. We’ve had some talented Division I players over the last couple of years that kids like Bella (Musick) and Maya (Karl) have had to take back row.
“Most of those kinds of players have never complained about it, they’ve worked hard in practice. They’ve been at state with us, but not on the court. And they were ready and both had phenomenal years. I couldn’t speak more highly of them.”
Karl has been a key part of Xavier’s success this season and her leadership showed on the court Tuesday night. Karl recorded a team-high 11 kills.
“I think we played a lot better than we have in the past,” Karl said. “Our defense really picked it up. Those little balls that we used to let drop, hoping it’s out, now we’re like ‘OK, let’s go, everything’s in.’”
Karl wasn’t the only senior who stepped up for the Saints. Riley Jonker, who transferred in from Linn-Mar this season, led the team in assists.
“I just think it’s about getting the ball to each one of the hitters, when they need it and when it works,” Jonker said. “They put the ball away tonight and did a great job.”
Jonker added that it was Filer and the competitive nature of the program that drew her to Xavier.
“I had the opportunity to come here and play for coach Filer,” Jonker said. “They have a special program here, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
None of the sets were in doubt for Xavier. The Saints had 5-0 runs in the second and third sets to give them some clearance.
Libby Fandel added 10 kills, and Maci Kadlec added nine kills and four aces.
The Saints return to the Alliant Energy Powerhouse with a title defense in mind. Last year’s squad defeated West Delaware in the 4A state championship game. But this year’s team comes in as more of an underdog.
“We are absolutely not the favorite this year, and I think that our kids kind of embrace that role,” Filer said. “Our goal is, always, we want to be in a spot where we can win a state championship.
“That doesn’t graduate, that doesn’t depend on the year, that’s always our goal. We’ll see how far we can push it.”
“I feel like we can win it all,” Karl said. “If we just play as hard as we have tonight, and we just go for everything, there’s no doubt in mind we can take it.”
Norwalk finished 23-18.