116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NORTH LIBERTY — No matter how high the expectations, a trip to the state tournament is always cause for celebration.
Class 5A No. 1 Liberty stormed the court, jumping up and down in a frenzied circle, and joined the student section after breezing through the Region 6 final, sweeping Muscatine, 25-10, 25-6, 25-11, on Tuesday night at Liberty High School.
“That green banner is special,” Liberty co-head coach Allie Kelly said. “It’s something that we always really, really appreciate. So it’s one big milestone, and now we have that next one to chase.”
“It feels good,” Liberty outside hitter Cassidy Hartman said. “Each step of the way. We’re one step closer.”
One step closer to the ultimate goal of winning a state title. The Lightning will be looking to go one step further following a runner-up showing in 2020. They will bring a formidable lineup to Cedar Rapids. Three seniors feature as starters, but much of the heavy hitting comes from a pair of juniors, a sophomore and a freshman. It’s a group that hasn’t lost a set since Sept. 30, sweeping 11 straight matches.
“I think we’re just focused on playing at a high level,” Kelly said. “We tell them all the time, regardless of past history, everything resets in the postseason. We all are 0-0 in the state tournament, and so now we play our game and show them what we have.”
What the Lightning have are threats from every spot on the court, which were on full display against the Muskies.
Hartman, a UNI commit, led a blistering Liberty (34-4) attack that proved too much for Muscatine (15-18) to contend with. Hartman set the tone early, with three kills and a pair of aces as Liberty seized an 11-5 lead in set 1. Junior Shelby Kimm and freshman Asta Hildebrand supplied constant pressure as the Lightning rolled from there.
Liberty grabbed a 13-1 lead after scoring 12 straight points to take command of the second set. The Lightning front line took turns wailing away from the left and the right, forcing the Muskies into a number of faults.
A 1-0 hole in set 3 was the first and only time they trailed. A slim 8-6 lead in set 3 was the closest Liberty came to facing adversity. The Lightning scored eight of the next nine.
Hartman, who came into the night with 382 kills, led the way by adding 10 more. Kimm added three aces and five kills of her own. Nine players registered a kill for the Lightning. The starters enjoyed the end of the second and third sets from the sideline after running up the lopsided margins.
“I think we did really good,” Hartman said. “We kept our intensity up the whole time throughout the match.”
“We focused a lot on passing and defensive integrity,” Kelly said. “I thought our girls did a really good job tonight on our driven balls, on tips and rolls. They were after every single ball. They were fighting hard for every point. There were no points that they took off and that’s what you want to see no matter what match you’re playing.”
The Lightning will open up state tournament play Monday.
“Our goal is to win it all,” Hartman said. “But we want to take it one game at a time. We need to play with high energy throughout the game and just give it our best.”