CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | Aliyah Carter finds plenty of joy on the volleyball court.
There’s a wide smile on the face of the 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter from Dubuque Wahlert every time she springs off the floor to take a swing. She’s at least a foot and a half off the floor when she recoils and connects.
Carter erupted for 24 kills Thursday afternoon while leading the defending Class 4A state volleyball champions to an 18-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 semifinal win over top-seeded Sergeant Bluff-Luton at the U.S. Cellular Center. Carter, who committed verbally to play the sport at Kansas State in late September, boasts a 28-inch vertical jump which has led to two simply amazing seasons – 424 kills for last season’s team and 523 for the squad that will take a 25-12 record into Friday afternoon’s 4A title match against Cedar Rapids Xavier (29-8).
“I’ve loved this sport ever since I learned how to handle a volleyball,” smiled Carter, who hit .347 as the Eagles soared to their second straight win in the state tournament series over the Missouri River Activities Conference champions.
“Towards the beginning, I was playing a little bit off and I knew I was. I was hitting over the block, but I was hitting it off. Towards the end of that first game, I just locked in. My teammates really helped because they were locked in too. We can do this. We just need to believe in ourselves.”
Carter had slammed 34 kills in Wahlert’s five-game 4A title match win over Sergeant Bluff-Luton a year ago. She fell 10 kills short of her total in the second go-around with Coach Renee Winkel’s Warriors, but one player not involved in last year’s match, 5-10 junior middle hitter Grace Lueken, hit .304 while delivering 10 kills.
“(Carter) is tough to defend,” said Winkel. “We adjusted from last year. We learned from last year, having never played against a player like that before. We got block touches on her, but she’s a great player.”
Senior Madison Harms (12 kills, 2 block assists) played the final match of her career, taking part in all three of the state tournament appearances the Warriors made over the last four years. She was active on the block against Carter as were her teammates Emma Salker (2 solo blocks, 1 assist), Elle Sneller (1, 1), Kate Stangel (1 assist) and Abby Wisecup (1 assist).
Sergeant Bluff-Luton (35-7) led throughout the first set, scoring in a variety of ways, beginning with the block, led by the 6-foot-2 Harms. Hitters Sneller (9 kills) and Kenzie Foley (11 kills), a pair of 6-footers, were also active, while ace serves came from both Foley and Abby Minten, who each finished the final match of the season with three each.
Wahlert stretched narrow leads towards the end of the second and third sets. The Eagles began to widen the gap in Game 4, using a kill from Carolyn Conlon and Emma Duehr’s ace serve to build a 13-6 lead, which was extended to 24-13 before Sneller delivered two consecutive kills.
“We wanted to stay in control and push back and fight back the best that we could,” said Harms. “They just had a lot of different things they threw at us and we weren’t ready for it. I thought we did a really nice job of slowing down Aliyah. We had a lot of touches, a lot more than last year, so that was nice. We knew their middles were going to come in hard. They did a nice job of hitting around us.”
Setters Maya Schmidt and Stangel dished 19 and 10 assists, respectively. Foley had nine digs along with libero Mia Gamet and defensive specialist Brooklyn Huberty.