CEDAR RAPIDS - If Tripoli is going to lose out on a state championship match, a team will have to rip the trophy out of its hands.
The Panthers had been there before and knew what they were doing and made sure top-ranked Grundy Center knew it from the opening serve.
Third-ranked Tripoli jumped out to a blazing start, and it was too much for the Spartans to handle as the Panthers completed their fifth consecutive Class 1A state championship run with a 25-21, 25-22, 17-25, 25-18 victory on Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Noel Saak, background, is overcome with emotion as Grundy Center senior setter Heather Hook (11) consoles Sam Meyers, left, following the top-ranked Spartans’ Class 1A state championship finals loss to Tripoli on Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The third-ranked Panthers captured their fifth straight 1A title by beating back the Spartans in four sets, 25-21-25-22, 17-25, 25-18.
"Tripoli is confident in what they are doing, and it can be tough sometimes," Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents said. "They have great ball control and I think that was the difference tonight. We got off to a slow start and just got going too late."
It was the third straight heartbreaking end to a season for the Spartans, who came up short of that elusive state title for the third year in a row.
Grundy Center (35-7) lost in the Class 2A semifinals the past two seasons before reaching the Class 1A title match this year but still fell short of the ultimate prize.
State Volleyball Tournament
At Cedar Rapids Ice Arena
Saturday, Nov. 10
Bettendorf 28-23-26-25, Iowa City High 26-25-24-23
Charles City 16-18-25-25-15, Solon 25-25-14-23-13
MOC-Floyd Valley 23-25-25-19-17, Union 25-21-14-25-15
Dike-New Hartford 18-18-25-27-16, Western Christian 25-25-18-25-14
Tripoli 25-25-17-25, Grundy Center 21-22-25-18
(* - denotes captain)
Ruth Grace, Iowa City High
Anna Willey, Bettendorf
Chloe Miller, Pleasant Valley
Jaali Winters, Ankeny
Michaela Nelson, Iowa City High
*Caitlin Wernentin, Bettendorf
Hali Hillegas, Charles City
Rylee Smith, Solon
Lauren Brobst, Bishop Heelan
Abby Caldwell, Waverly-Shell Rock
Kelsey Cave, Solon
*Jessie Sindlinger, Charles City
Alyssa Brown, MOC-Floyd Valley
Breann Bader, Union
Heidi Hillyard, Mediapolis
Shelby Schouten, MOC-Floyd Valley
Sam Barz, Union
*Alexis Conaway, MOC-Floyd Valley
Jamie Gesink, Western Christian
Rachel Koop, Dike-New Hartford
Katie Kuck, Council Bluffs St. Albert
Brandi Bueltel, Kuemper Catholic
Brooke Wolterstorff, Western Christian
*Briana Weber, Dike-New Hartford
Courtney Anderson, Tripoli
Heather Hook, Grundy Center
Mikaela Foecke, Holy Trinity Catholic
Brittney Hanson, Janesville
Sam Meyers, Grundy Center
*Bailey Kirchhoff, Tripoli
"They are very disappointed," Sents said. "But it was a good season. This will hurt for a while and time will help us heal. It would have been great to get the win, but it didn't work out for us."
Seniors Sam Meyers and Heather Hook both earned spots on the all-tournament team, as did Tripoli's Courtney Anderson and captain Bailey Kirchhoff.
Meyers finished with a career-high 24 kills and 14 digs in the match, while Hook added 39 assists, 15 digs, seven kills and two aces.
Anderson led Tripoli with 21 kills, while Kirchhoff added 15 kills and 14 digs.
"It was a really fun game to play in, but it is really sad that my time with Sam and Riley (Ackerman) is over," Hook said. "It was a great ride and I wouldn't change anything. Tripoli knew what they were doing, and they capitalized on us getting down early."
The Spartans led 4-1 in the opening moments, but quickly saw that lead evaporate. The Panthers grabbed control of the game when they went up 9-6 and Grundy Center couldn't recover. Anderson came through with three kills during a key stretch that saw Tripoli (38-5) extend its lead to five.
Ackerman and Meyers tried to keep the Spartans close with some late kills but the Panthers finished it off with another blast from Anderson.
"Anderson did a lot of damage tonight," Sents said. "The ball bounced their way more than it bounced our way."
The second game was nip and tuck but again the Panthers grabbed a lead late in the match and held on to win. The game featured several ties and no lead was larger than four points.
The Spartans woke up in a do or die third game as Meyers got going during a stretch that saw the Spartans roll off eight straight points on Hook's serve. During that run, Meyers blasted five kills and Hook added two aces as Grundy Center led 21-14. A net violation eventually gave the game to the Spartans.
"We thought maybe we could rally, but we got going too late in the match to have any chance," Sents said. "It is just tough getting anything going against them."
Hook added, "Our backs were against the wall, and we knew we had to go. We played more aggressive in that third set."
The Panthers did not get rattled though and began the fourth game with a comfortable lead at 8-4 and then led 11-6 before the Spartans once again rallied. Noel Saak, Meyers and Hook scored four straight points to get within 11-10, and the game was then tied three different times.
But, with the set tied at 18, the Panthers rolled off six straight points to take control and then finished off the Spartans with ease.
Win or lose, the Spartans had the best individual finish in school history.
"It was a huge mountain to climb," Hook said of getting to the championship match. "Just to be in this position tonight was awesome for this program. The talk the whole season was that we couldn't get to the championship game and we were able to do that this weekend."
Ackerman finished with 11 kills and seven digs, while sophomore libero Riley Sents added 21 digs. Peyton Ralston had 11 digs in the loss for Grundy Center.
Paige Figanbaum had a team-high 21 digs for the Panthers, while Toni Moeller had a match-high 45 assists and 13 digs.
In Class 2A, Dike-New Hartford rallied to beat Western Christian in five games. The Class 3A champion is MOC-Floyd Valley as it rallied to beat LaPorte City Union in five games. Charles City was down 2-0 against Solon before rallying to claim the Class 4A championship in five games. Bettendorf had 11 losses this season but claimed the 5A championship with a four-set win over Iowa City High. Meyers led the 1A tournament with 69 kills, while Kirchhoff had 43. Hook led the 1A field with 10 aces and 118 assists. Riley Sents also led 1A with 64 digs, while Figanbaum had 47. Moeller had 113 assists for Tripoli. The 1A title match took 95 minutes.