Lady Jays serve Stanton a loss, advance to semis
CEDAR RAPIDS -- The Lady Jays had an ace up their collective sleeve in Wednesday afternoon's state quarterfinal matchup with Stanton.
Gehlen senior Baily Wiltgen tagged five of her game-high nine ace serves in an opening stanza that set the tone for a four-set victory over the Viqueens, allowing her team to get back to the semifinal round after being bounced in a one-and-done trip to Cedar Rapids a year ago.
Wiltgen struck early and often, as her second ace of the contest gave the Lady Jays their second lead at 4-3 in the first set.
The two teams battled back and forth, tying the score seven different times before a trio of Stanton errors gave Gehlen a 14-12 advantage.
The Lady Jays extended that lead to 18-13 as Wiltgen and Hannah Kessenich each connected on a pair of kills before Wiltgen put the game completely out of reach with back-to-back-to-back aces.
The Viqueens followed with a two-point run of their own, but a pair of kills by Caitlyn Murphy were followed by a block by Morgan Whitehead that gave the Lady Jays a dominant 25-15 set victory.
Using momentum to its advantage, Gehlen burst forward in set two with kills by Wiltgen, Hannah Kessenich and two by Alison Schnepf.
An ace by sophomore Jill Kessenich gave the Lady Jays a 5-2 advantage, but a service error halted momentum.
A block and an ace by Stanton bookended another Gehlen service error, as the Viqueens took over the lead at 6-5.
Relatively quiet with just one kill to that point, Whitehead went to work.
The junior scored three straight kills to spark her team to a 10-2 run that resulted in a 15-8 advantage for the Lady Jays.
After a three-point scoring surge by Stanton, Wiltgen and Schnepf found room for kills before Wiltgen landed a pair of aces to extend the lead to 20-12.
The teams traded jabs from that point forward, but in the end, it was the Lady Jays who took the set 25-18 following a booming kill by Wiltgen.
Through the first two sets, Gehlen had played nearly flawless volleyball. The Lady Jays passed effectively and hit efficiently in taking a 2-0 lead in the match and looked to do more of the same in what they hoped would be a three-game sweep of the Viqueens.
But fate had other things in mind.
Gehlen struggled from start to finish in the third game, handing Stanton 13 points via a multitude of errors, as the Viqueens made things interesting with a 25-20 set victory to pull the match to 2-1.
Gehlen coach Mike Meyer took several timeouts throughout the game to try to right the ship, but his girls simply couldn't find an answer.
In the driver's seat for the time being, the Lady Jays nearly let the match slip away entirely, as Stanton scored four unanswered to take an early lead in the fourth set.
However, Whitehead scored six kills while spurring her team to a miraculous 13-3 run that put them firmly in control at 13-7.
To their credit, the Viqueens made things interesting down the stretch, eventually pulling to within one point at 23-22, but a Stanton service error was followed with a kill by Hannah Kessenich that sent Gehlen to the semifinals for the second time in three years.
Whitehead was outstanding on the night, finishing with team-highs in kills (16) and digs (13), and was 10-14 from the service box with three aces.
Wiltgen finished with nine kills and 13 digs, but it was her serving effort that shined above all else.
Hannah Kessenich had 11 kills and a block while Schnepf had 10 kills and Murphy added five. Murphy was also 8-10 serving with a pair of aces.
Taylor Peters had a game-high 21 assists and teammate Mariah McCarty followed with 19.
Jill Kessenich had two aces on a 13-15 serving effort while Miranda Bunkers was 10-12 with an ace and also had nine digs on the night.
With the victory, the Lady Jays (24-11) will face top-seeded Holy Trinity Catholic (46-4) in a semifinal match slated for 6 p.m. today (Thursday).
Holy Trinity defeated first-time state qualifier Guthrie Center 3-1 on Wednesday (25-18, 25-21, 25-7).
Coach Meyer could not be reached for comment.