Improbable comeback propels Gehlen Catholic to semifinals
CEDAR RAPIDS — Did Gehlen Catholic’s two late season five-set matches against War Eagle Conference rivals Hinton and Unity Christian have an impact on Wednesday’s state semifinal match against Tripoli? Not directly, but the experience of going a full five sets, even in defeat, was most likely a benefit for the Jays. Their opponent, Tripoli, never played a five-set match all season and they only played in a fourth set twice this season, both in losses to their conference opponents Dunkerton and Janesville.
For Gehlen fans who remember the 2010 meeting of these two teams, the result was eerily similar, only this time it was the Jays gutting out a come-from-behind 3-2 victory after falling behind two sets to none. The victory snaps a streak of unsuccessful attempts against the storied Panther program, winner of 11 state titles, including that 2010 match and the 2011 state championship game.
Zoe Semelroth made the Jays look completely out of sync in the early going, rattling off five consecutive aces from the service line, four before a timeout from Mike Meyer at 8-1 and adding the fifth out of the break. Tripoli pulled ahead as far as 11-1 before Gehlen got back on the scoreboard. While the Panthers dominated the serving game early, they ended up with 16 service errors compared to 13 aces. Gehlen on the other hand only had four service errors while dropping in a dozen aces.
The Jays didn’t roll over, even in the first set as a Kayla Mayer ace, Katie Peters kill and Anna Britt ace capped a rally that saw the Jays pull as close as four points. Unfortunately, the early deficit and various violations allowed the Panthers to win 25-18.
The Jays played a much more competitive second set and probably should have evened the game there with a 23-21 advantage. The Panthers however rattled off the next three points to go to set point. The set went beyond the 25 point threshold, but Tripoli got the win 27-25 on a Brianna Lobeck kill. Lobeck ended with seven kills, trailing teammates Kennedy Drewis with 21 and Semelroth who ended with 15.
Gehlen had been simmering in the second set, but the team turned up the heat and completely boiled over starting in the third. Down 10-8, Gehlen called a timeout and then went on a 5-0 run to take the lead and never looked back winning 25-14.
Chloe Bunkers, who had a fantastic night with digging up balls in the back row at libero with a match-high 21, picked up a pair of back-to-back aces early to give the Jays the lead. The Jays controlled the fourth from nearly start-to-finish as Bunkers added her third and final ace late and Peters capped off the match-tying fourth set with a 25-12 win on a kill. Peters ended the night with 18 kills, the only Jay in double figures as she had a match-best .341 hitting percentage.
The teams traded points out to 5-5, but the Jays got the slimmest of edges with the next two points and used that to get the leverage they needed for the win at 15-10 as the final point came on a hit wide out of bounds.
The Jays (28-6) advance to Thursday’s semifinal round at 6 p.m. against Springville (39-2).
Tripoli (2) 25 27 14 12 10
GEHLEN (3) 18 25 25 25 15
Gehlen: Kills- Katie Peters 18, Katelyn Langel 7, Sydney Livermore 6, Brooklyn Heissel 5; Assists- Livermore 19, Anna Britt 11, Chloe Bunkers 3; Aces- Britt 4, Bunkers 3, Peters 2, Livermore 2, Kayla Mayer 1; Digs- Bunkers 21, Peters 16, Mayer 12, Britt 11, Heissel 8, Livermore 6; Blocks- Langel 3, Krista Lipp 2, Mayer 2, Peters 2;