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Four-peat! Jays harness Mustangs, head to state

Thursday, November 1, 2012

(Sentinel photo by Kent Jones) The Gehlen Catholic School volleyball team celebrates after a huge win over George-Little Rock at the Class 1A Volleyball Region Final Wednesday to secure the Jays a place at state for the fourth year in a row. Gehlen has qualified for the state volleyball tournament in 1987, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011 as well. On Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, the Jays will next face off with Tripoli, who they played last year in the state championship.
SIOUX CENTER - In a gym crackling with the intensity of two well-matched teams, Gehlen claimed the night.

And a fourth consecutive trip to state.

The Jays pounded out a 3-1 victory over a strong George-Little Rock Wednesday.

(Sentinel photo by Kent Jones) Gehlen junior Hannah Kessenich slams down a kill to win game three against George-Little Rock on Wednesday. The Jays won the next game to finish 3-1 and earn a trip to the state quarterfinals.
Gehlen (21-10) and the Mustangs (14-18) went nearly point for point all night in the Class 1A region final match in Sioux Center.

In the first set, G-LR scraped ahead to win it 25-23.

The teams were neck and neck the whole set.

(Sentinel photo by Kent Jones) Gehlen junior Hannah Kessenich slams down a kill to win game three against George-Little Rock on Wednesday. The Jays won the next game to finish 3-1 and earn a trip to the state quarterfinals.
An ace serve by Shannon Smith tied it up 13-13. Another ace later by Katelin Langel pushed Gehlen ahead 16-15.

A few unforced errors by the Jays allowed the Mustangs to lead, but the teams were tied again at 23-23 before G-LR edged ahead.

Early in the second match, Gehlen took the lead and held onto it, winning with a final five-point run, 25-15.

(Sentinel photo by Kent Jones) Alison Schnepf taps a kill over the hands of the George-Little Rock defenders during Gehlen's 3-1 win over the Mustangs to advance to state quarterfinals.
"The first game we were a little nervous, but the second game we got our serves in better, and that brought our energy level up and got our offense up," said Gehlen senior Katelin Langel. "Once we got our offense rolling we were just on top of it and we couldn't get stopped that easily."

Gehlen coach Mike Meyer said the Jays started out tight but began to loosen up by game two.

"I expected we might come out a little tight," he said. "It seemed like we were making a lot of mistakes that we don't normally make. I think we had six or seven missed serves in that first game."

But the Jays got it sorted out by the second game, he said.

"From that point on, while we still had some moments, I thought we just played so much better," he said.

The Jays took the lead early on in game three and kept it for a 25-17 win.

Juniors Baily Wiltgen and Hannah Kessenich got Gehlen started with a block that gave the Jays the first point.

The Mustangs briefly led, but Gehlen reclaimed the lead 7-6 with Langel serving.

A few kills from Wiltgen helped Gehlen keep ahead, and the Jays maintained control for most the rest of that set, with a kill from Kessenich wrapping it up.

The Jays pulled ahead early in game four, but the Mustangs breathing down their necks.

A pair of kills from Langel and junior Alison Schnepf gave Gehlen a 6-2 lead. G-LR closed in on the Jays to tie it up 11-11, then went on a three-point run to take the lead.

The Mustangs led until an ace serve by Smith tied it up again 17-17.

From then on, the game was Gehlen's.

A pair of kills by Langel and sophomore Morgan Whitehead stretched the Jay's lead, then a four-point run by the Jays clinched it.

Gehlen wrapped up the win with a kill by Wiltgen, an ace by junior Miranda Bunkers, and a block by Wiltgen and Whitehead.

Wiltgen said earning a place at the state tourney in Cedar Rapids "feels awesome."

"We fought really hard to get here," the Gehlen junior said. "They (G-LR) are a tough team and we had to played hard, just like we played every game, and we stayed together in the ups and downs."

Coach Meyer said the team did hit a few bumps before pulling ahead for the win.

"Early on, our passing wasn't good and that hurt our setting," he said. "I thought the game really turned when we started passing the ball better."

Senior Abby Freking was then able to get the ball to Gehlen's left-side hitters, especially, Meyer said.

"They had a short setter we thought we could get over, and we really had some long stretches where we were able to exploit that weakness of theirs," he said.

Before the regional final Wednesday, Gehlen hasn't matched up with G-LR this year, but Meyer recalled their strength from previous seasons. The Mustangs defeated No. 5 Central Lyon to advance to the region final.

"George-Little Rock kids just always compete," he said. "I wasn't at all surprised that they upset Central Lyon because I knew they had that kind of athletes. They showed that tonight."

The Mustangs weren't the only ones showing their athleticism Wednesday evening.

Gehlen's Smith lead serving for the Jays going 24-for-25 with six aces. Freking went 20-for-22 with one ace and Bunkers went 14-for-14 with two aces.

Freking had 43 assists.

Smith also lead passing, going 23-for-25, and senior Emily Holtgrewe went 18-for-19.

On the offense, Langel led with 17 kills, Wiltgen contributed 14, Schnepf 10 and Kessenich five.

On the defense, Smith had 17 digs, Langel 16 and Wiltgen 10.

Kessenich had seven blocks, Langel had five, and Wiltgen and Freking had three each.

In state tourney play, Gehlen (21-10) is paired with Tripoli (35-5) in the State 1A Volleyball Quarterfinal on Thursday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.

They will play on court two.

Gehlen last faced Tripoli in the 2011 State Championship match, where Tripoli won 3-0 to claim a fourth consecutive state title.

Meyer said he went into Wednesday night's match telling the team, "I want us to play in a way that everybody sees how much we love the game."

The Gehlen team followed through, he said.

"Everybody had their moments when they struggled, yet they were able to shake it off, bounce back and make the plays we needed to," he said. "I think this was an awesome example of a team win."

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