Survive and advance: Tritons into semis

Survive and advance: Tritons into semis

CEDAR RAPIDS - The Iowa Central volleyball team was pushed to the brink of elimination here Thursday night.

Facing the possible end of their national title quest, the Tritons rallied, advancing to the NJCAA Div. II Championship semifinals with a five-set victory over Heartland.

Scores were 20-25, 25-17, 16-25, 25-17 and 15-11.

Iowa Central (42-1 overall) earned a four-set win over Mott earlier in the day. They will face Parkland in the semis on Friday night inside the Alliant Energy PowerHouse Arena at 6:30 p.m.

Angel Baylark reeled off three kills in the final stages of the fifth set, finishing with 20 to lead the Tritons. Katilyn Steffes and Haley Alharithy each added 17 kills, Brooke Dobson 11 and Jori Hajek seven.

Dobson and Hajek gave Iowa Central a slim 9-8 lead with back-to-back kills before Heartland tied it at 10-all. Hajek had another kill and Baylark followed with two straight to make it 13-10.

Baylark tallied the 14th point and an error gave the Tritons the match.

"The emotions were a key component to us winning that game," Alharithy said. "Not all of us were having an 'on' night, but we all figured out a way to come together and pick each other up emotionally to get the win.

"We all wanted to win so bad that we made it happen and it meant everything to get that win as a team."

Alesha Johnson recorded 61 assists with four digs, Steffes had 20 digs, Baylyn Johnson 16, Hajek 14 and Bailey Dugan nine. Hajek also had three aces with Steffes, Dugan, Baylyn Johnson and Bria Sandifer recording one each.

"I thought the girls showed how mentally tough they were," Iowa Central head coach Sara Horn said. "After taking an 18-day break from matches, we came out not super sharp in either match. We did a lot of good things against two good teams, but we also made some uncharacteristic mistakes that I thought showed with not playing in matches, let alone matches against top teams in quite a while. 

"We did a great job of finding ways to score and finding ways to stop the other team from scoring when it mattered, and I think we can take this momentum over to these next two matches."

Emma Clark had 12 kills and Lauren Minick 11 to lead Heartland, the No. 10 seed in the 16-team tournament. They knocked off Scottsdale in five in the first round.

Iowa Central is in the final four for the second time in school history, and second straight season. They finished third in the spring.

This will be the third meeting between the Tritons and Parkland, with Iowa Central having won both encounters.

"Looking ahead to the semifinal match and to our last two matches in general, it's a really elite group of four top teams left," Horn said. "Everyone is going to put everything on the line, and I know we're excited to show what we have and to show what we've been working on all season up to this point. 

"We're really, really proud of the girls' fight, not only this weekend but this entire season. This is a strong team and we truly have become a family.  It will be our family against these other teams these next two days."   

Top-seed Cowley, defending national champion Johnson County and Kirkwood are among those left on the other side of the bracket.

-By Dana Becker