The Jays kept the No. 3 Panthers close in the first set, falling 25-19, then struggled with an early Tripoli lead in the second set, losing 25-11, then wrestled the lead back and forth, with the Panthers claiming game three 25-21.
"That second game was kind of brutal for us, but in the other two games I thought we competed a lot better," Gehlen head coach Mike Meyer said after the quarterfinal match. "I think we really accomplished something to get here, especially in a rebuilding year. To still go to state speaks a lot for our kids."
An ace by senior Emily Holtgrewe put the Jays within a point, trailing 6-7. Later a kill by junior Hannah Kessenich and a Tripoli error tied it up 9-9.
The set was tied up at 10, 11 and 12 points, with a third consecutive Tripoli error giving Gehlen the 13-12 lead.
Tripoli pulled ahead, but a block by Morgan Whitehead and another Panther error tied it up at 17-17, the eighth tie of the set.
Then Tripoli went on a four-point run, stopped by a kill from junior Baily Wiltgen.
"We gave up too many runs of points consecutively which just was too hard to overcome," Meyer said.
Set two started out rough for Gehlen and the Jays couldn't shake it.
"We were down 11-3 before we even had our second server serve. That was bad from the beginning," Meyer said.
The Panthers seemed to overcome the errors that plagued them in the first set.
Kills by Whitehead and Kessenich and a pair of aces by senior Abby Freking got a little Gehlen momentum going, but not soon enough. Tripoli took the game with a 14-point lead, 25-11.
The Jays came into game three with a fresh aggression.
A Langel kill and a Tripoli error put them within one point, trailing 3-2.
Langel put down another kill, then slapped down a smoking ace to tie it up 5-5.
Another Langel ace gave the Jays their first lead since the first set.
Tripoli tied it up, but Whitehead came back with a kill to give Gehlen the lead 7-6.
Holtgrewe punched down another ace serve to give the Jays a two-point lead.
The game was tied at 9-9, then at 10-10 before the Panthers went on a three-point run.
After a Gehlen timeout, the Jays closed the gap to 13-12, Tripoli.
The Panthers tried to widen the gap, but a pair of Langel kills and a Tripoli error tied it up at 15-15.
The Panthers went on a three-point run, stopped by Whitehead. Another kill by Whitehead made the score 19-17, Tripoli.
Langel aced a serve, putting Gehlen within one point. Tripoli called a time out.
The Panthers pushed toward the match point, with Gehlen following. A Whitehead kill put Gehlen within two points, trailing 22-20.
They brought the gap to two again at 23-21, Tripoli, but the Panthers took the momentum to the win without letting Gehlen score again.
"We didn't swing real good tonight," Meyer said. "We hit negative .056, and we haven't hit negative all year."
Gehlen's middle hitters sophomore Morgan Whitehead and junior Hannah Kessenich found success against Tripoli.
"Considering that one of their best players is a great big middle hitter, I thought that was really good," Meyer said.
Whitehead had five kills for the night, and Kessenich went 4-for-9.
But the Panthers frustrated two of Gehlen's lead offensive players, keeping Langel to 4-for-19 and Wiltgen to 3-for-15, respectively.
"They (Tripoli) are a nice blocking team. They had 18 blocks, a pretty decent number," Meyer said. "Part of that was our own not getting on top of the ball and not being aggressive."
Senior Shannon Smith led defensively with 14 digs.
Freking had 13 assists for Gehlen and seven digs, while Holtgrewe and Langel had five digs. Junior Alison Schnepf and Wiltgen had three digs each.
The Jays put up seven successful blocks for the night, with Whitehead, Langel and Kessenich each contributing two.
Serving for Gehlen, Freking went 10-for-11 with two aces. Langel went 8-for-10 with three aces and Holtgrewe added two more aces, going 7-for-8.
Senior Shannon Smith went 8-for-9 serving, junior Miranda Bunkers went 7-for-8 and Wiltgen went 5-for-7.
For the majority of the Gehlen starters, this season was their varsity debut, Meyer said.
"We have a lot of new people, and for a lot of them it was their first time out there, and I was pretty proud that they stuck in there pretty good," he said of the state quarterfinal match.
"We were still able to do something that only eight 1A teams in the state get to do, so I am very proud of our kids that they accomplished what they did," Meyer said. "And a real strong nucleus will be returning -- both our left side hitters, both of our middle hitters. We'll obviously have to replace some good seniors, but not quite as many as we have in the past."