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.”