By ANDY HEINTZ
Courier sports writer
---- — PELLA — The Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont volleyball team defeated Des Moines Christian 3-2 (19-25, 25-17, 25-18, 20-25, 15-9) in the Class 2A, Region 4 finals Wednesday in a phenomenal match that featured excellent play by both teams.
With the victory, the Rockets (34-5) earned a berth to the state tournament. Emotionally, for both teams, the match was tantamount to a roller-coaster ride, as the momentum continuously seesawed back and forth.
"When the momentum wasn't going our way we kept telling each other to 'keep believing' and 'we got this,'" Rocket Haegen Boyer said.
The electric atmosphere in the Pella Christian High School gym was palpable, as fans for both clubs roared exhuberantly for their respective teams throughout the match. Good-natured cheers were lobbed back and forth between the opposing fans, with each side trying to outdo the other in team spirit.
Things didn't start swimmingly for E-B-F — it was clear the Lions had dilligently studied the Rockets' style of play.
"They came out and played tremendous against us," E-B-F coach Gladys Genskow said. "They blocked really well, they knew what we were going to do so we just had to go back and make some adjustments. That first game we were so nerved up and really scared and it was one of those where now we need to make adjustments."
Even when Tasha Alexander and Karlie Taylor would deliver one of their trademark spikes in game one, the ball was often blocked right back at them.
"There in the first game we were hitting too much into the block," Genskow said.
Despite the Lions' exceptional play, E-B-F still managed to take an 8-6 lead early in the first game after a successful spike by Alexander. A few moments later, however, a perfectly placed shot by Des Moines Christian's Brynn Reichardt locked the two teams in an 8-8 tie. Later, the Lions' Sidnee Phillips and Erika Veurink scored on a double-block on an Alexander kill attempt. Affronted, Alexander answered the Lions with a swift riposte on the next volley. Having learned from past experience, this time Alexander re-directed her spike away from her would-be blockers and scored.
Des Moines Christian responded by going on a mini-rally that left them with a 17-13 lead. That lead eventually ballooned to 24-16 before a determined Alexander unleashed a few ferocious spikes that trimmed the deficit to 24-19. The Lions, however, managed to get the next point to take the first game 25-19.
Alexander unloaded with a kill at the genesis of game two to give E-B-F an early 1-0 lead. Later, a block and a kill by Taylor grew the Rockets' lead to 9-6. E-B-F's lead ballooned to 14-7 after an ace by Taylor. Then, a kill by Boyer extended that lead to 19-10.
Affronted, Des Moines Christian rattled off five straight points that culminated with a kill by Reichardt. Moments later, however, the Rockets reclaimed the momentum when Taylor ended a long volley with a kill. The aforementioned volley was ornamented by a tremendous save by Alexander.
Taylor capped off the game with consecutive kills that gave E-B-F the 25-17 win. The Rockets jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead in game three after Taylor scored with one of her 27 aces in the match. The Rockets continued to dominate and managed to build their lead to 18-8 after a kill by Alexander. Des Mones Christian eventually mounted a rally that whittled E-B-F's lead down to 23-18. But, the Rockets regained their composure, and after a Taylor kill, picked up a 25-18 victory.
Only one game from oblivion, the Lions came out reinvigorated in game four. Des Moines Christian's energetic play provided them with a 12-7 lead. Rocket McKinley Moore temporarily stymied the offensive onslaught with a crucial spike that trimmed the deficit to four. Later, a double block by Moore and Alexander shaved the Lions' lead down to 13-12. The game continued to oscillate back and forth until Des Moines Christian ripped off three-straight points to go up 20-17. The Lions maintained their lead and picked up the 25-20 win.
The fans for both teams were gurgling like a mountain stream at the threshold of the final game. And, once play started, that stream of noise, along with the palpable tension that had enveloped the gym, remained high.
"It was so intense, I don't even know words to describe how intense it was, we wanted it so bad," Shafer said about game five.
Des Moines Christian jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after Veurink scored on a tip shot. Later, the Rockets tied the game at 4 after a pair of aces by Boyer. E-B-F went on to take a 10-9 lead before Taylor unleashed a trio of kills that extended the Rockets' lead to 13-9. E-B-F went on to win 15-9.When asked how E-B-F was able to keep its composure and pick up the win in game five, Boyer had a ready answer.
"I think it's just faith and believing in each other," she said. "Because we're all a family and we believe in each other and we wanted it."
While Taylor spearheaded E-B-F's offense with 27 kills, Alexander complemented her with 16 kills of her own. In addition, Alexander and Bowler each recorded four aces and Boyer made all 21 of her serves. Shafer keyed the offense with 49 assists and Alexander and Boyers paced the Rockets defensively with 18 digs each.
E-B-F will play fourth-ranked Council St. Albert at noon Wednesday on Court One at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids to kick off the Class 2A State Volleyball Tournament.
Des Moines Christian 25-17-18-25-9
Serving — Tasha Alexander 19-21, Sadie Baugher 18-19, Haegen Boyer 21-21, Taylor Leffler 12-16, Paige Shafer 10-12, Karlie Taylor 12-14 . Team — 92-103.
Aces — Alexander 4, Baugher, Boyer 4, Leffler 2, Shafer 1, Taylor 2. Team — 14.
Hitting — Alexander 36-43, Baugher 9-12, Boyer 1-2, Leffler 25-26, McKinley Moore 9-10, Shafer 2-4, Taylor 47-57. Team — 129-154.
Kills — Taylor 27, Alexander 16, Taylor 8, Moore 5, Baugher 2. Team — 58.
Setting — Shafer 49, Alexander, Baugher. Team — 51.
Blocks — Alexander 3, Leffler 3, Moore 3, Taylor 2. Team — 11.
Digs — Alexander 18, Boyer 18, Baugher 8, Leffler, Shafer 4, Taylor 9. Team — 58.