COUNCIL BLUFFS — Council Bluffs St. Albert came out swinging. Nearly two sets passed before Underwood found its rhythm.
For the Saintes, the result was a one-sided 25-15, 25-17, 26-24 sweep in an Iowa Class 2-A volleyball regional semifinal at home Friday night.
Fifth-ranked St. Albert (27-10) put on an all-around exhibition in the early going. The first two sets were never in doubt thanks to a diverse attack and consistent passing.
The team’s best volleyball of the year? Coach Angie Lantz said it was close.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a great battle on both sides,” Lantz said. “I kind of wish I was one of those fans in the bleachers instead of on the coaching end of it. But we knew we worked hard, played our game and didn’t get caught in the hype. We knew that good things could come our way.”
No. 14 Underwood (23-9) carried over some late momentum from set two into the third. It didn’t trail until a passed ball fell between two Eagles to put St. Albert ahead 22-21. The home team later went up 24-22 on a pair of kills from Nevada Meis, but an overpass from Underwood’s Lea Crouse landed in, and the Saintes’ next swing went into the net to make it 24-24.
Meis came back with consecutive kills — part of her match-high 15 — and guided the winning shot just inside the left sideline to start off the celebration.
“We’re really happy about it,” said Meis, with an ice pack on her right shoulder afterward. “We knew they were going to give us a run for our money and they did in that third set. We just gave it our all and played with our heart as a team. That got us all the way.”
Waiting for St. Albert in Wednesday’s Region 2 final will be No. 9 Hinton (28-4), which beat No. 10 Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto in four sets Friday. The Saintes will try for their second straight state tournament berth at 7 p.m. at Denison High School.
The Eagles were left wondering what could have been. Coach Paula Carman said her squad occasionally came out mentally flat throughout the season.
The lethal affliction hit the Eagles at the wrong time Friday. They dropped the final six points of the first set, then fell behind 21-7 in the second.
Carman said the first warning sign came early in the match, with far too little talking on the court between the Western Iowa Conference tournament champions.
“Game three should have been the way the entire match was played for us,” Carman said. “I think their heart was there, but we didn’t let loose soon enough. We were just frozen solid out there in the first game.”
Senior Chelsie Hardesty knocked down nine kills to lead the Eagles, and Rachel Landen and McKinsey Rodenburg added four each. Underwood had been seeking its first regional final appearance since 2009.
It graduates regulars Hardesty, Rodenburg, setter Cassie Cooper and libero Madicen Fanslau in addition to reserve Kirsten Anderson. The Eagles were also co-regular season WIC champs and boast two five-set wins over 2-A No. 7 Treynor despite lacking any real height or dominant hitter.
“If you’re going to be a coach and spend a lot of hours in the gym, this group of girls right here are the ones to do it with,” Carman said. “I’m going to miss them.”
St. Albert, meanwhile, returns to the brink of reaching Cedar Rapids. Junior Kylie Ferguson chipped in 12 kills, and five others also contributed offensively Friday to help make it happen. Sophomore setter Matti Munger handed out 34 assists.
“We’ve been in this position how many times in the last few years,” Lantz said. “We know you take nobody lightly this time of the season.”
Underwood (23-9)...........................15 17 24
At CB St. Albert (27-10)..............25 25 26
U (kills-aces-blocks): Lea Crouse 2-0-0, Regan Landen 2-0-1, McKinsey Rodenburg 4-0-2, Rachel Landen 4-0-0, Madicen Fanslau 0-0-0, Allison Waters 3-0-2, Chelsie Hardesty 9-1-0, Maddy Powell 3-0-4, Cassie Cooper 0-0-0.
SA: Grace Wettengel 4-1-1, Matti Munger 1-0-1, Josie Thomas 0-0-0, Alli Wettengel 4-0-3, Kylie Ferguson 12-0-2, Nevada Meis 15-1-2, Joni Thomas 4-0-1, Katie Kuck 1-0-0.
Set assists: U, Crouse 12, Cooper 5, Rodenburg 3, Waters 2, Regan Landen 1. SA, Munger 34, Kuck 1, Joni Thomas 1, Alli Wettengel 1.