(Sentinel photo by Roy Tucker)
The core of that senior class began playing club volleyball together in fourth grade under now-head coach Linda Christensen and after three years of disappointment in the postseason, the ultimate goal set all those years ago has been achieved.
"I'm not so sure that it's hit home yet," said Christensen. "But I'm so excited for the girls. There's no way to explain how it feels to help them achieve something they've wanted so bad."
And last season at this time - following a loss to Sioux Center in the Regional Semifinals - Christensen had no idea it would be her and not then-head coach Jodi Cook that helped daughter Tara Christensen and classmates take the final step.
"No I didn't know, but I've always told Jodi I would do absolutely anything she wanted me to do to help this team," said Christensen. "No stone was left unturned. I started working with some of the girls in January and once we got into the club season, I knew some of the things we wanted to do. About the middle of the club season, I knew the job was there and I wanted it."
The Blackhawks won in straight games 25-13, 25-16, 25-23 to advance Tuesday, but had to play from behind in each game to pull off the sweep. In game one it took an Amber Bietz serving run and lights out hitting by Jamie Vander Kooi to turn the tide in Hinton's favor. Underwood scored the game's first two points before a pair of Vander Kooi kills gave Hinton the tie. Underwood led again at 3-2 and 4-3, then traded points with the Blackhawks up to 6-6. Bietz put Hinton in the lead at 7-6 with a kill and moved to the service line, where the Blackhawks rattled off seven straight points to open up a 14-6 advantage. After Underwood finally stopped the bleeding with a point to make it 14-7, the Blackhawks strung together another six in a row to lead 20-7 and held on for the 25-13 game one victory, punctuated by Vander Kooi's seventh kill of the opening frame.
Game two unfolded identical to game one in the early stages, with Underwood jumping out to a 3-0 lead. The Ealges increased the advantage to 5-1 at one point before the Blackhawks rallied back to tie at 6-6 and take their first lead at 8-7. The game would be tied on nine different occasions - the latest at 15-15 - before another Vander Kooi kill started a 10-1 run to end the game and lift Hinton to a 25-16 win.
The third and final game was the hardest fought with Underwood trying desperately to stay alive in the match. The Eagles once again built an early lead at 5-1 and Christensen called a timeout to regroup. Underwood scored the next point following the timeout to lead 6-1 before the Blackhawks began to slowly climb back, eventually tying the score at 11-11. The score would be tied eight more times down the stretch as Hinton saw a 20-15 advantage evaporate into a 20-20 deadlock. Underwood led the game 21-20 and again at 22-21, but back-to-back kills by Vander Kooi and Christsensen put Hinton ahead 23-22. After Underwood tied the game one final time at 23-23, Delainye Hardersen delivered two straight points from the serve line for the 25-23 Blackhawk win.
Vander Kooi led the Hinton attack with 17 kills to go along with 15 digs, four ace serves and one block. Hardersen had 20 digs, nine kills, one ace and one block, Allyssa Eickholt had seven kills, two blocks and one ace and Christensen supplied 34 set assists, 10 digs, five kills, four blocks and one ace. Contributions also came from Jessica DeRocher with six kills and one block, Bietz with 10 digs, two kills and two assists, Sarah Dehner with 11 digs and one kill, Jenni Popken with three asssists and one kill and Becky Book with three digs.
Hinton (36-5) will now face No. 12 Durant (28-5) in the quarterfinal round of the Class 2A state tournament Thursday, Nov. 10 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. Durant reached the state tournament with a three-game sweep of 14th-ranked Dyersville Beckman in it's Regional Final match Tuesday.