ANKENY - You can't fault the effort. The Marshalltown volleyball team came out firing against Class 5A No. 3 Ankeny Centennial on Thursday night.
But the Jaguars were just too deep and too talented to be denied.
And backed by a dominant performance from Creighton-bound hitter Jaali Winters, the Jaguars advanced to the Region 5 final following a 25-12, 25-13, 25-17 victory over the Bobcats.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown’s Kali Banks, right, consoles fellow senior Sharissa Stansberry, center, after the Bobcats’ season was ended in three games by Class 5A No. 3-ranked Ankeny Centennial in Thursday’s Class 5A Region 5 semifinal. Stansberry had a team-high 10 digs in the loss.
"They worked really hard," MHS coach Terri Westendorf said. "Our girls put their guts out on the line. They have some great hitters over there, and they have a lot of ways to undo you. We just couldn't plug all the holes."
Next up for the Jaguars, who have won six straight, is a date with seventh-ranked Cedar Falls at the Roundhouse on Tuesday. The winner advances to the state tournament. The Tigers bested Waterloo West in straight sets Thursday to move on.
Winters came into the match with the third-most kills in 5A and the sixth-most in the entire state. She was on her game most of the night against the Bobcats, finishing with 15 kills and three aces.
Marshalltown (14-22) came out strong in the opening set and three straight kills by Rachel Whaley trimmed the Jaguars' lead to 11-10, but Centennial scored 14 of the next 16 points to secure the set. The rally by the Jaguars (31-8) also destroyed any momentum that was built up by the Bobcats.
"We were just trying to find our flow," Ankeny Centennial coach Jessica Rinehart said. "The girls were kind of nervous and once they settled down, we started taking care of the fundamental part. That helped open up the lead for us."
Winters was the key component to the deciding run. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter recorded four kills during the spurt and helped push the lead to 20-11. She also finished off the set with consecutive aces.
"She has got great court awareness and she has a great swing," Westendorf said of Winters. "The vertical allows her to see the floor on the other side. She has got some great skills. That's why they are ranked."
The Jaguars jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second set and never looked back. Whaley did her best to keep the Bobcats in the game, but Winters made it 11-6 with back-to-back points off a kill and an ace. Marshalltown had a hard time handling the Jaguars' serve for much of the contest.
McKenna Pierson nearly served out the set late. She recorded two straight aces but a hitting error gave possession back to MHS but the Bobcats went down two games to none a point later.
"I am really proud with how we came out. We came out with a lot of fire. The defense was really good all night," Westendorf said. "When we got our pass on serve receive, we attacked the ball well. It just didn't seem like we were able to keep the rhythm. Once you lose the rhythm, you play defense too long. You can only play defense so long before someone gets a kill. That was kind of our undoing."
The best game of the night for MHS was the final one. A kill by Emily Rebik and a Kali Banks block helped the Bobcats to a 3-0 lead in the early going, but once Centennial grabbed the lead, it wouldn't give it back up.
The Jaguars opened up a 6-all tie with four straight points and then slowly pulled away from there. Kills by Winters made it 14-11 and then 17-12. A 5-0 spurt made it 21-13 and hitting errors by the Bobcats were too much to overcome.
"Everytime you step on the court, we want to play our best ball," Rinehart said. "We did that at times tonight. But I am glad that we got it done in three. You don't want to have to deal with the pressure of coming from behind. I was happy that we controlled it pretty much from about the midway point of game one until the end."
The Bobcats played the match without the services of two regulars - Amanda and Sam Hughes, who are currently in Georgia to attend the wedding of their older sister.
"We lost some of our smoothness," said Westendorf of the missing sisters. "But the girls who filled in did a great job. I don't know if it would have changed the outcome of the game, but it's hard when your first start of the season is against Ankeny Centennial. We definitely missed them, but the other girls did the best they could to help their team."
Whaley led the Bobcats with nine kills, while junior Leiah Paustian had eight kills, seven digs and was 13-for-13 in serves with the team's only ace. Senior libero Sharissa Stansbery had a team-high 10 digs, senior setter Lindsey Ricken added 11 assists and senior Jordyn Simbides chipped in eight assists. Rebik, a senior, ended up with five kills and was 8-for-8 in serves.
Winters recorded her 1,000th kill in a tournament last weekend. The Jaguars' first chance to recognize their star hitter was Thursday and she was singled out after the win.
"She's a phenomenal player - definitely one of the best in the state," Rinehart said. "I coached in college for 12 years, and she is the best player that I have ever coached. She is fun, athletic and a good teammate, which you don't always find."
Westendorf will have to replace seven seniors - Rebik, Stansberry, Simbides, Ricken, Banks, Taylor Vaudt and Brooklyn Amundson - from the 2013 squad. "It's been a great run for them. They have improved from game one until now," said Westendorf. "The seniors were a blessing to this program, and they will be missed. You never replace them, you just put new characters in." Cedar Falls and Ankeny Centennial will begin their regional final matchup at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Marshalltown. Rinehart said Winters had several D-I offers but wanted to stay close to home, and that's one reason she picked Creighton.