SIOUX CITY | It was not without a stern challenge from Le Mars, but Bishop Heelan qualified for its fourth consecutive state Iowa State Volleyball Tournament with a 3-0 sweep of the Bulldogs in a 4A regional final at Heelan Monday night.
The fifth-ranked Crusaders charted 25-22, 25-22 and 25-7 victories, staging a late rally in the second set. Heelan, now 33-10 overall, will face Missouri River Conference rival Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the first round of the state tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
“It never gets old because you have different kids every year and you just want them to be able to experience the great atmosphere down there,” Heelan Coach Mary Miller said. “This team has really, really come together. They had two great weeks of practices again, our setters coming in early for the entire week, we fine-tuned things.
“It was really good to see us be challenged in those first two sets but keep our composure. It’s not their errors, it’s what we did to them, we just had some solid defensive plays and attacks at crucial situations.”
Junior Nicole Jacobson had another strong all-around performance for the Crusaders with a team-high 15 kills, 15 digs and two blocks. Her final kill of the night sent Heelan to its 23rd state tournament, which ranks as fourth on Iowa’s all-time list.
“We play for everybody, our teammates, fans, coaches, everybody,” Jacobson said. “I think we just had to get calm, get in the groove and really get our game going and set three it really showed. Everything we’ve worked for in the preseason and season has finally paid off.”
The first set was a see-saw battle all the way through. Heelan pulled away from a 10-10 tie with four straight points, only to have the Bulldogs score the next four and once again draw even. The game was tied at 21-21 but Heelan got a side out, a kill from Sam McCabe and another point to draw within set point.
Le Mars (18-18) had the upper hand most of the second set, leading 15-11 before the Crusaders fought back to deadlock the score at 17-17. The Bulldogs were in front 20-19 but Heelan scored six of the final eight points, four on kills by Jacobson.
It was all Heelan in the third set as the Crusaders bolted to a 7-1 lead and never looked back.
“It could have gone either way in the first two sets and it did, then we got up 7-1 in the third set,” Miller said. “Volleyball is a game that there’s a lot of mental to. You have to credit Le Mars, they played lights out, especially in the first set. There were some great rallies and attacks. They’re young, they’ll be back.”
Sam McCabe tacked on nine kills and Katelyn Stanley eight. McCabe will be playing in her fourth straight state tournament.
“It’s awesome, I’m lucky enough to be one of the few that gets to go to state all four years so I’m really excited,” McCabe said. “There’s nothing like going to Cedar Rapids and going into that big arena, hearing all the cheers. I’m so happy I get to go down for one last time.
“When I was in eighth grade I remember watching them not being able to go to state and saying in my mind, I don’t want to do that, I want to go all four years. When I was a freshman I had a goal to make the varsity and I’ve had so many goals I’ve been able to fulfill.”
McCabe, Jacobson and Alex Hope were each starters for last year’s team that finished 35-9 and reached a semifinal.
The potent combination of Emma LaFleur (23) and Jordyn Knapp (17) combined for 40 assists. Taylor Wilshire had 13 digs and Allison Bermel 12, while Hope finished with three blocks.
Le Mars beat Heelan in a 2013 regional final, ending a stretch of 15 consecutive state tournament appearances for the Crusaders. The streak of 15 in a row is the third-longest in state history. Heelan avenged that loss with a victory in a 2014 regional final.
The Bulldogs knew the odds were stacked against them playing in “The Pit,” but seemed unfazed in the opening two sets.
“I thought we executed exactly what we practiced, we watched film and they did a great job in games one and two and I was really hoping we could push it over,” Le Mars Coach Sue Irwin said. “But hats off to Heelan, they knew how to finish. They picked up their offense and it was a lot quicker and we weren’t ready to speed our game up that quick.
“I told the girls you can’t hang your heads, we did a showing and you crawled off the court and that’s what I wanted to happen. A win would have been nice but I hope Heelan does a great job and makes us proud at state.”
Sophomore Jecenta Sargisson, one of a number of promising young players on Irwin’s roster, finished with 11 kills and 19 digs and served 6-for-6. Freshman Pypr Stoeffler had seven kills, 20 digs and served 8 of 9 while Jenn Schneider charted six kills and 27 digs in her final high school match.
Grace Milbrodt, another senior, contributed 18 digs and served 12-for-12. Libero Haylee Cooper had 32 digs and sophomore Brooke Haage 23 assists.