CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | Fair question, Mike Meyer said with a sigh and a tired expression on his face.
Fatigue was a factor for his Gehlen Catholic volleyball team that was limited to .097 kill efficiency while falling 25-14, 25-16, 25-19 to the top-ranked Janesville squad that rolled to their third consecutive Class 1A state volleyball championship Friday night at U.S. Cellular Center.
Returning Class 1A first-team all-stater Bree Thompson delivered 18 kills for Janesville (37-7), which posted sweeps in each of his three matches the last three days. Middle hitter Katie Peters provided 13 kills, 12 digs and two blocks for Gehlen (29-7), which had scored five-game wins over Tripoli and Springville in its 10th state tournament appearance.
“It’s almost impossible to measure that and to say unequivocally that it was or not, but it almost had to be,” said Meyer. “Those two (matches) back to back with no rest hardly, they were so taxing on us physically and probably more emotionally. I think it was really hard for us to dig down into that well a little bit more and of course, we were facing a team that was going to make it harder for us to do that anyway.”
“I don’t know, we just weren’t really ready, we knew we had to play, but I think we were just tired,” said Peters. “It takes a toll on your body, playing two five-set matches in a row. (Janesville) has good hitters, they’ve got good passers and eventually, that just clicked for them. We weren’t able to defend as well as they were.”
Peters and libero Chloe Bunkers represented Gehlen on the 1A All-Tournament Team which was announced afterwards. Katelyn Langel provided seven kills and two blocks while Sydney Livermore contributed 15 assists and 19 digs. Another setter in the squad’s 6-2 offense, Krista Lipp, added six assists, four kills and two blocks.
Peters snapped a 7-all tie in the first set for the third-place team from the War Eagle Conference. Langel and Lipp combined on a block of the Wildcats’ Kennedy Meister (14 kills, 11 digs), while Langel’s kill produced a 10-7 lead, but Janesville stormed on a 10-1 tear that provided momentum that carried the Iowa Star North Conference champions the advantage the rest of the night.
“You have to play for every point, no matter if it’s pretty or not so pretty,” said 27-year Janesville Coach Shelly Sorensen, whose program lost in four sets to Gehlen in the 2011 state semifinals, that year played at Cedar Falls Ice Arena.
“Whether it was pretty or not so pretty, you fight to the end. Our girls did a great job of doing that. Bree, all year long, hit a very heavy ball. She can get up and crush it. This year, she also developed some shots that she brought to her game to keep the defense off.”
Meyer had an intense conversation with his team after the second-set loss that fired up his team in the early stages of Game 3. Peters had a kill for a 3-2 lead and another kill for a 6-6 tie, but Janesville kept on firing and dominating.
“(Janesville) has hitters that can hit across their bodies so sometimes you can’t read that, even when the block is there,” said Peters. “It’s kind of hard to be where the ball is.”
Lipp and outside hitter Kayla Mayer (3 kills, 5 digs, 2 ace serves) are Gehlen’s only starting seniors. Classmates Abbie Dickman and Kathryn Ripley came off the bench in the contest for a team that will return virtually everyone else.
“I’m very proud of my girls,” said Meyer. “I told them this afternoon I probably have never been more proud of a team in all of my 38 years of coaching what they have accomplished. That hasn’t changed none because of how we played here. I would say when we have a little bit more time to put this season to rest, we will be pretty fired up to want to get back here and build on this again.”