116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The butterflies never really went away.
And neither did the Dragons.
Tenth-ranked Johnston overcame two match points in the fourth set, erased a 12-10 deficit in the fifth and shocked No. 1 Iowa City Liberty, 25-21, 17-25, 17-25, 26-24, 16-14, in a Class 5A quarterfinal at the state volleyball tournament Monday afternoon at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
“I still haven’t processed it yet,” senior Dasha Svitashev said. “There was a lot of screaming in the locker room. I couldn’t hear anything.”
Johnston (28-11) is making its first state appearance in six years. It won’t be one-and-done.
» Photo gallery: Iowa City Liberty vs. Johnson in state volleyball tournament
Instead, the Dragons will face No. 4 Cedar Falls (31-8) in a semifinal at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“Pure happiness,” Maren Rasmussen said. “At the end there, it was do-or-die.”
And the Dragons did, against a talented Liberty squad that admittedly “tensed up,” according to junior Cassidy Hartman, who led all attackers with 32 kills.
“It got to us,” she said. “Instead of putting pressure on them, we were waiting for them to make errors.”
Liberty (34-5) was making its third straight state appearance. The Lightning reached the 5A final last year with many of the same pieces.
“We played timid,” Shelby Kimm said. “We were scared of making mistakes. We could have done better.”
Johnston scored seven of the first eight points of the match and led throughout the first set.
“It was a wake-up call,” Kimm said.
Liberty rolled through the next two sets and was on the brink of victory, up 23-20 in the fourth.
But the gritty, balanced Dragons scored six of the next seven points — three different players had kills, two served aces and Ava Helming capped the comeback with a block to force Game 5.
Liberty held a 12-10 lead in the finale, but again, the Dragons rallied. Rasmussen’s kill put Johnston ahead 14-13, then her block sent the Dragons to the semifinals.
“They outswung us,” Liberty co-coach Randy Dolson said. “We played a lot of defense. They put a lot of pressure on us, they swung from their hips, and they got us.”
Helming led the winners with 18 kills. Svitashev added 16, Josie Pundt 12. Molly Trachta dished out 54 assists.
Hartman had nearly half of Liberty’s swings (71 of 165) and posted a .324 efficiency. Kimm added 14 kills and 17 digs.
Liberty returns four starters for 2022.
“I hope this puts a chip on their shoulders and we can learn from this,” Lightning co-coach Allie Kelly said.