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STATE FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS: Cox, defense shine for Hawks in semifinal win

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | It might not have shown up in the toughest eight-player district in the state, but it certainly did on the turf at the UNI-Dome.

Second-ranked Remsen St. Mary's defense physically dominated a Fremont-Mills team that came into its semifinal clash Thursday averaging 45 points a game. The Hawks held a team with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers to 66 total yards of rushing while picking off two passes and forcing a key fumble in a 51-6 throttling.

"We saw a running team and we can stop the run," Hawks Coach Ryan Hajek said. "Our defense has been underrated all year, and we play a tough schedule so we are going to give up points. Our defense may not look very good, but everybody we faced since week three on has been a great team.

"It is good to see how physical we are up front against a big offensive line on the other side of the ball."

"We stuck to our coach's game plan, stuck to our assignments and great things will happen," senior Carter Kuchel said. "We watch a lot of film, our team studies and we know what the other team is going to run when they snap the ball."

Remsen St. Mary's won the District 1 title that saw as many as five teams ranked in the top 10 at once this season.

The Hawks advance to the state title game for just the second time in school history Thursday at 10:06 a.m. where it will face defending state champion and top-ranked Don Bosco.

When the defense wasn't controlling the Knights' offense, Remsen St. Mary's running back Canaan Cox was busy showing off his complete game. The senior, who transferred in from North Carolina for his final season and will play at the University of South Dakota next fall, ran for 225 yards, scored four touchdowns, picked off two passes, scored a two-point conversion and kicked a PAT.

"It was fun man just fun to be out there," Cox said. "People like to say I am cocky, I know I am, but I believe I am a winner and I am surrounded by winners, everyone on my team is a winner. I am 100 percent sure our team is going to be taking this championship."

Fremont-Mills (9-3), which lost in the semifinals to Harris-Lake Park 35-21 a year ago, looked like it was poised to make a game of it early as Colton Hauschild picked off Hawks quarterback Derrick Schorg and returned it to the Hawk 15. Two running plays moved the ball down to the 3, but the hard-hitting St. Mary's defense forced Jaeger Powers to fumble the ball at the 1 and Kuchel scooped it up to give the defense its eighth takeaway in three postseason games.

"It was an unbelievable play ... huge right at the 1-yard line," said Hajek, who watched his team add two more interceptions after it came into the contest leading eight-player in picks. "That is what our guys do. They don't get down on a big play. They forget about it and come right back the next play and make a play."

Schorg made the turnover hurt as he hit Kenny Bohnenkamp on a 15-yard TD pass where he fought his way in the final five yards to make it 14-0 in the second quarter.

Cox scored on a 9-yard run to start the scoring in the second half before the Hawks used a little trickery as wide receiver Kuechel took a reverse handoff and threw a 73-yard strike to Bohnenkamp for a 44-0 lead in a game that had a running clock nearly all of the second half.

"That was amazing, I live for that," Kuchel said. "There was a guy over the top and a guy below him so I just had to put it in the middle of them."

Cox's biggest play came in the first half when he raced 70 yards to the end zone to make it 22-0, and followed that up with an interception of Knights quarterback Mason Vanatta and returned it 39 yards to the 1. One play later he was in the end zone for his second score and a 30-0 lead.

"I come into every game believing I am going to rush for 300 yards, eight touchdowns, that's my goal," Cox said. "It was a little disappointing, me personally, I wasn't able to get that kind of start. So it was just me persevering and trusting in my line know that something was going to open up and I was going to be able to take advantage of it.

"It felt great."

The Hawks had a chance to add one more touchdown before the break as Schorg hit Kuchel on a 33-yard pass on third-and-20 putting them at the Knight 3. Schorg would connect with Brody Ricke for the touchdown pass on the next play but an illegal formation call brought the ball back. Four straight incomplete passes ended the half.

Cox, who came into the game having rushed for 1,834 yards, added 123 more in the first half and brought his season total to 2,059 by the end of the game.

"It has been great and I am enjoying it a lot," said Cox, who added a 55-yard run for the only score of the fourth quarter. "I really didn't see me getting 2,000 yards in eight-man with the shorter field, but now that I am here it is great. A lot of credit goes to my O-line."

The Hawks overcame a 15-yard penalty on Cox to score on their first drive as Schorg hit Ricke on a 39-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-9 play to make it 6-0.

The Knights, held to 161 yards of total offense, broke up the shutout in the third quarter when Vanatta had a 22-yard TD run.

The Hawks (11-0) are in the playoffs for the eighth time in school history and first time since 2013. With the victory Hajek moves just one win away from joining his father, Ken, in leading teams to state championships. Ken coached Remsen St. Mary's to the eight-player title in 2004 when Ryan was the quarterback of that team.

A victory against Don Bosco, who beat Midland 80-12 in the first semifinal, would make Ken and Ryan just the second father-son duo in state history to both win state football titles. They would join Barry and Cory Brandt with the latter accomplishing the feat with last year's Class 2A state title winners from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley.

STATE VOLLEYBALL: SB-L to play for state title

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | Teamwork, more than anything, enabled Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s volleyball team to score its biggest win of the season Thursday afternoon in the semifinals of the Class 4A state tournament.

Kylee Christensen, Madison Harms and Elle Sneller each recorded 12 kills, but that just scratches the surface of what occurred at the U.S. Cellular Center. Libero Abby Minten’s match-high 19 digs also pushed the fourth-ranked Warriors to post a 20-25, 25-18, 18-25, 25-16, 15-13 thriller over No. 1 Cedar Rapids Xavier.

Brookyn Huberty added eight digs for Coach Renee Winkel’s Warriors, who will take a 42-3 record into Friday afternoon’s 4A title match against No. 2 Dubuque Wahlert (21-9). All-around players like outside hitter Kenzie Foley (5 digs, 5 kills, 3 block assists) also contributed for a squad that repeatedly dug up well-place kill attempts from Xavier athletes like 6-foot outside hitter Charlotte Richards, a Missouri-St. Louis recruit who also shined both ways, providing 23 kills and 15 digs.

“Me and Abby try to keep each other positive and try to tell each other we can do it,” said Foley. “That’s what makes us really good teammates back there. It’s all about reading well and moving your feet. When we don’t move our feet, that’s when we get scored on. Since we move our feet so much, we were able to dig them up and that’s when we had success.”

“We knew (Richards) was going to be their main offensive threat,” said Winkel. “Our back row knew it. You know what, we play in a gym full of hitters as well. So it’s nothing our back row hasn’t seen. They don’t hit the ball harder than anyone in our gym is. We were greatly prepared and we knew what to expect. I’m proud of our back row today.”

Setter Lexi Sneller dished 35 assists for the Missouri River Activities Conference regular-season and tournament champions. Maya Schmidt delivered four of the Warriors’ eight ace serves while the 6-foot-2 Harms, the 4A state leader with 179 blocks, had one solo block and eight block assists.

Harms had assistance in this defensive department from Christensen, the 6-foot Northwest Missouri State recruit who had six block assists, one more than Elle Sneller. Lexi Sneller and Abby Wisecup each added four block assists for a squad that played their first five-game match of the season.

Sergeant Bluff-Luton rallied from a 13-10 Game 4 deficit to make this the third match of the entire state tournament to reach five games. Facing the three-point difference, Foley turned in a seven-point serving run that included a pair of Elle Sneller kills and two Christensen blocks, combining with Lexi Sneller on a block of Richards for an 18-14 lead.

The combination of a Lexi Sneller kill and an Xavier hitting error closed the fourth set for the Warriors. Game 5 featured seven ties, the latest a Richards kill that knotted the score at 9.

Foley snapped the tie on a kill, while two consecutive Christensen kills produced a 12-9 lead. Richards pulled Xavier (32-10) within 14-13 on a kill, but then followed with her 10th attack error of the match to give Sergeant Bluff-Luton the victory.

“Oh my gosh, this is a dream, we’ve been dreaming about this since Day 1,” said Christensen. “We’ve been working so hard. I feel really blessed to be able to do this. We knew we were really going to have to dig deep and really figure out how we were going to come back. We had an incredible team playing us that was ranked No. 1. We were prepared to play five.”

“Xavier, being top-ranked, had the height, they had the power and they had the defense,” said Winkel. “We matched up really well with them. Lucky for us, we had the teamwork. Our teamwork won this match today.”

Seven of Xavier’s losses were to teams competing in this week’s state tournament. Richards plays for a team that definitely was tournament-tested, facing mostly a Class 5A schedule against opponents from the Mississippi Valley Conference.

“If a match goes five games, it’s anybody’s,” said Richards. “You have to be ready to play every single point. At the end, they just got the best of us. Both teams left everything they had on the court. There’s nothing for us to hang our heads about. I would love to be in the championship game. I’m so proud of our team.”

STATE VOLLEYBALL: Sioux Center rallies to reach title match

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | Game Four domination gave Sioux Center’s volleyball team momentum it didn’t lose during Thursday afternoon’s grueling 16-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-10, 15-8 Class 3A state tournament semifinal victory over Osage at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Top-ranked Sioux Center began Game 4 with a 6-0 lead fueled by two ace serves from Jordyn Van Maanen while midway through the set, Makennah Traver turned in two consecutive aces which translated into a commanding 13-3 advantage.

Sharp serve reception in the back row contributed to the runaway victory as they got the volleyball to setter Van Maanen who dished passes to an array of hitters that closed the set and put Coach Julie Oldenkamp’s squad into a Game 5 situation for the first time this season.

“That was so good going into the fifth set because we had the momentum and they didn’t,” said Van Maanen, who spread the wealth in her 48-assist effort, as double-digit kills went to Alexis Toering (17), Makennah Traver (16), Alyssa Mulder (14) and Camryn Cleveringa (10).

“Winning by that much, we were like, ‘Let’s go.’ We were going to win that fifth set and we were going to win it strong. We came together. We served well. We passed well. We hit well. We did everything so good.”

Sioux Center will take a 34-5 record into Friday afternoon’s 2:30 3A state title match against No. 3 Waterloo Columbus (35-8), which advanced with a five-game win over No. 2 Carroll Kuemper. The Warriors are the first Siouxland Conference team to reach the 3A finals since MOC-Floyd Valley, paced by Alexis Conaway, now a middle blocker at Iowa State, won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

Oldenkamp felt the Game 4 domination was the product of leading from start to finish in a closer third set. Consecutive Toering kills late in Game 3 stretched a narrow 18-17 lead and kept Sioux Center’s season alive after losing the match’s first two games.

“We talked in the third set and I told the girls to just relax and have fun,” said Oldenkamp. “We play our best when we play loose. We knew we needed to gain momentum. We’ve talked about that all year. The girls even said it themselves. Once we gained momentum and dug in and got after it, it was like we got back to knowing that’s the way we know how to play. We were doing things uncharacteristic of us in the first two sets. After we loosened up, it was a totally different game.”

Kelsey Havel had 16 kills for Osage (26-10) while Brenna Jacobs and Sydney Midland each added 14 for a squad that never led in Game 4. After serving and hitting strong to lead from start and finish in Game 1, Coach Andie Olson’s squad suddenly struggled to get into system.

Hitting errors which Sioux Center made in the first two games suddenly became Osage’s misfortunate in the final two sets.

“Obviously, looking at the stats, we weren’t very efficient in sets four and five,” said Olson. “We had been so efficient all year so this wasn’t the time for us not to be efficient. I also think (Sioux Center) did a lot of things that forced us out of our comfort zone and pushed us to do things we don’t normally do.”

Errors continued for Osage in Game 5. The combination of a Havel attack error and a Cleveringa kill gave Sioux Center a 7-4 lead and from there, the Siouxland Conference champions were in business, winning the first-ever semifinal match in Oldenkamp’s 11 seasons.

“Those five-game matches are very long,” said Toering. “They can get very tiring. But they’re also a lot of fun, especially in that fifth set because we played four sets before that so we have to try and give everything we’ve got in that fifth set whether you’re tired or not.”

VanMaanen had 12 digs while Traver and Cleveringa each added 10. Alyssa Mulder had a team-high three blocks.

STATE VOLLEYBALL: Wolfpack back in title match

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | Challenged as hard as they were Thursday afternoon was a good thing for the two-time defending Class 2A state volleyball champions.

Second-ranked Western Christian still posted a 25-16, 25-21, 25-21 semifinal sweep over No. 3 Grundy Center, but action at the U.S. Cellular Center was far from easy, especially in the final two sets. Coach Tammi Veerbeek’s squad rallied from a 21-19 deficit to win Game 2 then faced a 13-9 difference in the third game prior to completing the sweep.

“Grundy Center was a great team and they really pushed us,” said middle hitter Ashtyn Veerbeek, who provided 13 kills and three blocks for a Western Christian squad that will take a 39-6 record into Friday afternoon’s 4:45 2A title match against No. 1 Dike-New Hartford (49-3).

“That’s going to help us for tomorrow. Dike-New Hartford is a great team. Just having a tough competitor like Grundy Center push us, it’s to help us. Grundy didn’t let the ball hit the floor. They’re a great team.”

Jessi De Jager provided 15 kills and three blocks for Western Christian, which will face a team that a year ago, won the Class 3A title. The Western Christian/Dike-New Hartford rivalry is one of the most intense in state volleyball tournament history. It’s the first time the two teams have met in the 2A finals since 2014 when the Wolverines posted the fourth straight championship win over the Wolfpack.

Western Christian has 16 state titles (10 coached by Veerbeek) and Dike-New Hartford has 12. Veerbeek, with a win this afternoon will not only get a three-peat, but she’ll be tied with former Dubuque Wahlert Coach Tom Keating, who has the current record of 11 state championships.

“I have the utmost respect for Diane and their program,” said Coach Veerbeek. “It’s a dynasty over there. Dike and ourselves have had many, many battles throughout the years.

“To be honest, our team hasn’t talked about them at all. We’ve done us this whole year because we wanted to get to this game. We know we’re going to have to play extremely well. I tell our girls, they tie their shoes the same way as us.”

Olivia Granstra supplied 21 assists, 10 digs, three ace serves and one block for a tradition-rich Western Christian program that’s in the state finals for the 16th time in the last 17 years. Fellow setter Tori Wynja delivered nine assists, seven digs and an ace serve while Madison Hofman provided nine digs, two ace serves and a block.

Hailey Wallis recorded nine kills and Kylie Willis added seven kills for Grundy Center (37-7). Teammate Landry Luhring provided the kill that gave Coach Lori Willis’ squad the 21-19 advantage.

De Jager’s kill started Western Christian’s comeback. The combination of a Grundy Center attack error and Granstra’s ace serve produced a 22-21 lead and from there, the Wolfpack were in control.

“It’s tough to close a team like Western Christian out because they can do a bunch of different things,” said Coach Willis. “They got most of their kills off tips. You don’t really see that too often. They were tipping the ball and putting the ball where we weren’t. That’s really hard to defend.”

Grundy Center took a 13-9 Game 3 lead on an uncharacteristic attack error from Veerbeek, Class 2A’s leader with 539 kills. The University of Nebraska women’s basketball recruit posted two straight kills to force a 14-14 tie while Cori De Jong’s kill, followed by Hofman’s ace serve, gave the Wolfpack the lead for keeps.

“This wasn’t the best volleyball we played, but we found a way when we needed to,” said Coach Veerbeek. “What made me nervous about Grundy was they’re very balanced. I like to play a team with two great hitters, then we can focus on them. They have a very balanced attack. They run a 6-2 so they have hitters coming at you all the time which makes it very hard on our blockers. Our middles really had to work.”

John Schultz, Lee News Service 

Sioux Center's Alexis Toering spikes the ball against Osage's Sydney Midlang during Thursday's Class 3A state semifinal.