DENISON, Iowa — In the last of four emotional sets, Council Bluffs St. Albert volleyball players decided what they would be for Halloween.
State tournament qualifiers. Again.
The fifth-rated Saintes got off to a scary start against No. 9 Hinton in the Iowa Class 2-A, Region 2 final Wednesday at Denison Community High School. But they settled in from there, outdoing the Blackhawks 14-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-13 to reach Cedar Rapids for the second straight year and second time in school history.
“It came down to us pulling each other in and saying, ‘Look each other in the eye. This is what we want,’” St. Albert junior Kylie Ferguson said. “We knew what it took to get there.”
The Saintes (28-10) will try for their first state victory in a quarterfinal against No. 4 West Branch (36-4) next Thursday. First serve is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Hinton’s hot opening set put any hotel reservations on hold. While the Saintes were trying to defend screaming line drives from numerous directions, the Blackhawks (28-5) took a 13-12 edge and closed on a 12-2 run.
Said St. Albert libero Katie Kuck: “When we have a block it was a little easier to take. When we don’t, I got really scared.”
Six-foot-1 junior Kasey Reuter — who is being recruited by multiple Division I schools — scorched nine kills on the night for Hinton. Lauren Hedlund, a 5-11 junior, blasted a team-best 13, and 5-11 senior Sadie Shuck added nine.
The Blackhawks led 17-12 in the second before St. Albert made its move. Senior Nevada Meis knocked down two of her 11 kills and added a block assist with Joni Thomas as part of five unanswered points.
Later, with her team trailing 23-21, Meis picked up three consecutive kills on a slide play, a soft roll shot and a liner just inside the left sideline. Hinton’s next swing went long to knot the match.
“Instead of seeing tape on them, we had to see them live,” St. Albert coach Angie Lantz said. “It’s one thing to see it at certain angles on video; it’s another to see it live and in person.”
A decisive 6-1 spurt late in the third set turned the match St. Albert’s way. Ferguson came on for two of her match-high 15 kills during the stretch to make it 21-17, and she added another in the clutch to give her squad a 24-22 advantage.
Freshman Grace Wettengel finished the set with one of her seven kills as Hinton was called for a violation.
St. Albert trailed for one point in the fourth as chants of “Let’s go Saintes” grew louder and more frequent. They closed the contest on a 14-3 run.
Players celebrated with the state banner at midcourt in a few delirious moments afterward.
“You could see on the girls that they weren’t going to waver or let it slip by them,” Lantz said. “It was a little bit of a wakeup call after that first set.”
Hinton began its season 15-0, winning 34 straight sets in the process. It lost just four times before Wednesday against a formidable schedule.
Coach Kate Ortegren said her group didn’t adjust as quickly as it has in other matches this fall. In particular, the Blackhawks couldn’t get their blocks in place against a diverse St. Albert attack.
Hinton remains stuck on one state berth in program history — in 2005.
“The first game we did everything we focused and planned on,” Ortegren said. “Little errors in the second, third and fourth just stretched out as we kept going.”
Meis and Kuck brought a little extra motivation to the match, which was coincidentally held on the same Denison-Schleswig court that the Saintes lost a gut-wrenching five-set regional final in 2009.
The rest of the Saintes knew it. And they were determined to end this trip on a much different note.
“It means the world to us,” Ferguson said. “We work so hard and last year was such an amazing experience. This year, it’s back-to-back and it feels great.”
C.B. St. Albert (28-10).......................14 25 25 25
At Hinton (28-5).....................................25 23 22 13
SA (kills-aces-blocks): Grace Wettengel 7-0-2, Matti Munger 1-2-1, Josie Thomas 0-0-0, Alli Wettengel 7-0-2, Kylie Ferguson 15-0-3, Nevada Meis 11-2-4, Joni Thomas 3-0-3, Katie Kuck 0-0-0.
H: Lauren Hedlund 13-0-2, Tori Bishop 8-3-1, Kasey Reuter 9-4-1, Sierra Stuerman 0-0-0, Ashley Eaton 2-0-0, Sadie Shuck 9-2-0, Breana Bollmeyer 1-0-0.
Set assists: H, Eaton 39, Hedlund 1; SA, Munger 33, Josie Thomas 6, Kuck 1, Joni Thomas 2.