Gehlen Catholic (27-8) vs. Tripoli (25-13)
TIME: 6 p.m., Wednesday
GEHLEN CATHOLIC KEY PLAYERS: Katie Peters, 6-0, Jr., MH (292 kills, 225 digs, 57 blocks, 16 ace serves); Katelyn Langel, 5-8, Jr., MH (192 kills, 49 blocks); Kayla Mayer, 5-8, Sr., OH (118 kills, 235 digs, 46 ace serves); Krista Lipp, 5-9, Sr., RS (117 kills, 23 blocks); Brooklyn Heissel, 5-6, Jr., OH (83 kills, 110 digs); Anna Britt, 5-6, Jr., S (492 assists, 151 digs, 48 ace serves); Sydney Livermore, 5-7, So., S/RS (262 assists, 86 kills, 118 digs, 23 blocks); Chloe Bunkers, 5-7, So., L (271 digs, 39 ace serves); Abbie Dickman, 5-8, Sr., DS (89 digs).
GEHLEN CATHOLIC OUTLOOK: Peters pounded 21 kills as No. 3 Gehlen Catholic reached the state tournament following a one-year absence with a 3-1 win over War Eagle Conference rival Harris-Lake Park. Sydney Livermore added nine kills and 21 assists for a program that’s in the 1A state tournament for the 10th time in school history and eight times in the last nine years. Peters, who has started every match she has ever played, has three straight seasons of 200 or more kills. Peters, along with outside hitters Kayla Mayer and Brooklyn Heissel, are the lone returnees from the 29-11 2015 squad that dropped a five-set thriller in the first round to Central Lyon. Livermore and Anna Britt, the setters in Gehlen’s 6-2 offense, were junior varsity players a year ago. Chloe Bunkers’ older sister Miranda was the Jays’ starting libero in 2013, while another sister, Carly, was the starting libero in 2014 and 2015. Veteran Coach Mike Meyer, who guided a string of seven straight Gehlen state tournament teams beginning in 2009, feels motivation is another factor for the third-seeded Jays, who have dropped four consecutive first-round matches at the U.S. Cellular Center after reaching at least the semifinal round in 2010 and 2011. Meyer feels his team, which is 14-0 against 1A competition this season, needs to take advantage of their talent and seed to make a strong run this week.
A BIT ABOUT TRIPOLI: Tripoli and Gehlen Catholic have three prior meetings at the Class 1A state volleyball tournament. Tripoli won each of the three meetings, 3-2 in the 2010 semifinals, 3-0 in the 2011 finals and 3-0 in the 2012 first round. Like the Jays, No. 7 Tripoli missed the 2016 state meet. Tripoli has 17 state tournament appearances, reaching in consecutive years starting in 1998 and ending in 2015. Tripoli won state titles in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Kennedy Drewis has 368 kills for Tripoli while Zoe Semelroth has 251. Both players slammed 11 kills in a 3-0 sweep over Lansing Kee that netted Tripoli its 18 state berth.
MEYER SAYS: “We just have to relax and play the way we want to play. We need to distribute the ball to a lot of our hitters. Obviously, Katie is someone we’ll go to in a lot of big situations and we’ll continue to do that. Our other kids need to be able to swing well. Both of our right sides have been swinging the ball well lately. Good ball control will be the key.”
Unity Christian (24-10) vs. Council Bluffs St. Albert (27-3)
TIME: 4 p.m., Wednesday
UNITY CHRISTIAN KEY PLAYERS: Jori Bronner, 5-11, Jr., MH (407 kills, 262 digs, 54 blocks, 45 ace serves); Corrina Timmermans, 5-11, Jr., OH (404 kills, 248 digs, 54 blocks, 24 ace serves); Janie Schoonhoven, 5-11, Fr., OH (99 kills, 102 digs, 21 blocks); Danielle Kroeze, 5-8, Jr., OH (75 kills, 179 digs, 20 ace serves); Cori Franken, 5-11, Sr., MH (30 kills, 38 blocks); Erin Wieringa, 5-10, Jr., S (627 assists, 118 digs, 45 blocks, 40 ace serves); Brooke Zevenbergen, 5-8, Jr., S (275 assists, 239 digs, 46 ace serves, 21 blocks); Haley Hofmeyer, 5-8, Sr., L (130 digs, 28 ace serves); Anna DeHaan, 5-6, Sr., DH (102 digs).
UNITY CHRISTIAN OUTLOOK: Fifth-year Unity Christian Coach Patty Timmermans describes her team as “battle-tested”, winning 18 of its last 22 matches, nine of those wins coming against state-ranked opponents. Among those wins in this stretch for a program that’s at state for the 18th time was a 2-1 decision over No. 2 (2A) Western Christian on Oct. 14 at the Heelan Classic. In fact, it was the Knights’ second straight win over Western at that event. Breaking it down even further, the War Eagle Conference champions have defeated three other teams that will play at the state tournament this week, Sioux Center (3A), Gehlen Catholic (1A) and Red Oak (3A). Kill leaders Jori Bronner (407) and Corrina Timmermans (404) are among five returning players from last year’s 35-5 team that reached the 2A state semifinals along with Erin Wieringa, Brooke Zevenbergen and Anna De Haan. Incidentally, all but De Haan are juniors in that group of five, so perhaps next season, Unity can make a run for another trip to the U.S. Cellular Center. Wieringa and Zevenbergen are varsity setters for the first time, combining for a 10.26 assist average to jump-start an offense that averages 11.30 kills per game. Serving is another key as three players have 40 or more aces, including Wieringa, who had three of the squad’s nine aces in the 3-0 Region 2 title win over No. 10 Treynor. The Knights average 2.35 aces per game.
A BIT ABOUT COUNCIL BLUFFS ST. ALBERT: It’s the sixth state appearance and third straight for Council Bluffs St. Albert, one of four teams from the Hawkeye Ten Conference in the state tournament. Sydney McLaren (296 kills) provided 13 kills and two blocks while leading the No. 4 Saintes to a 3-0 sweep over Woodward-Granger in the regional finals. McLaren is one of several team members played for last year’s 27-5 team that reached the state semifinals, including Bailey White (201 kills), who had nine kills and four blocks against Woodward-Granger and setter Lexie Petry (785 assists).
TIMMERMANS SAYS: “We have more girls who are jump serving than in the past. Another thing that is nice and different are jump floaters. We have jump serves that have good top-spin. We have good consistency with our servers. One serve that has been successful down the stretch is a short serve that draws teams out of system.”
-- Jerry Giese