CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | Katie Peters had enough left in the tank and so did her teammates.
Two consecutive kills for the Gehlen Catholic middle hitter, followed by an attack error from Tripoli outside hitter closed the fifth and final set. The third-ranked Jays completed an improbable and incredible comeback with an 18-25, 25-27, 25-14, 25-12, 15-10 win in first-round action during the Class 1A state volleyball tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Peters supplied 18 kills, 16 digs, two blocks and two ace serves for Coach Mike Meyer’s Jays, who will take a 28-6 record into a semifinal match that will begin at 6 o’clock tonight.
“It was kind of stressful, but at the end it all came down to our passing and our defense,” said Peters. “We just put it together and we clicked. We were able to come back.”
Katelyn Langel had seven kills and three blocks for Gehlen, which had dropped its previous three state tournament matches to Tripoli, beginning with a five-game loss in the 2010 1A title match. Setters Sydney Livermore and Anna Britt dished 19 and 11 assists, respectively.
Serving was also a factor, as the Jays posted 12 aces (one less than Tripoli), paced by Britt’s four. Chloe Bunkers added three aces and 21 digs. Kayla Mayer added 12 digs and two blocks while Krista Lipp added two blocks.
“We bounced back (late) in that first game and I thought that was key that we closed the gap,” said Meyer. “I thought we could have maybe got the second game and was disappointed we didn’t. We really took care of them those last three games.
“We were playing out with a lead. That really makes a difference. You relax more. (Tripoli) had a lot of unforced errors. That really gave us a boost. We’ve always been a momentum type of group. We seem to keep building and building with positive emotion. You could see it on the floor. The kids were starting to have fun. They were celebrating and playing with lots of energy.”
Drewis had 21 kills and Zoe Semelroth added 15 kills for Tripoli (25-14), an 18-time state qualifier that had posted first-round wins over Gehlen in 2011 and 2012. Semelroth had four of her match-high six ace serves early in the first set for a team that took a commanding 10-1 lead.
Both teams were guilty of serving and attack errors. Tripoli, which received consecutive kills from Brooke Dreesman and Brianna Lobeck to snap a 25-25 Game 2 tie, registered 29 attack errors and 16 serving errors, much of it fueling Gehlen’s dominance in sets three and four.
Gehlen had 15 attack errors and four serving errors, but nonetheless, took charge in the sets that forced the fifth set.
“I don’t think anyone was accustomed to the environment yet,” said Peters. “We had to be able to overcome that and get used to it as fast as we could and we finally did. We had determination to win the game. It’s a great feeling winning down here. We all wanted it.”
Three straight Tripoli attack errors gave Gehlen a 10-6 Game 5 lead. Lobeck’s block of a Peters attack attempt pulled the Panthers within 12-10, but Peters followed with the two straight kills to help the Jays complete the rally.
“I thought it was really obvious (Peters) wanted to finish that thing,” said Meyer. “Our setters knew enough just to get it to her. Our blocking set the tone in those other games too. They have a Division I left-side hitter (Drewis) who had a lot of kills, but she’s had better hitting efficiency. We forced her into a lot of errors. We were able to control their middles pretty good. I thought Chloe Bunkers stepped up in the back row pretty good too.”
Drewis is a Western Illinois volleyball recruit who finished her season with 389 kills. She had 12 attack errors, yet still said afterwards that it was a fun match.
“(Gehlen) was super-scrappy,” said Drewis. “We had errors at the wrong time that hurt us. We went four (games) with Janesville and four with Dunkerton. We had never played five sets. It was an eye-opener tonight and it was fun. Not making it last year, it was our biggest goal to get to state. It was still a huge accomplishment.”