West High senior Emma NorrisBy Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
CEDAR RAPIDS – For the third year in a row the West High volleyball team was eliminated in the state quarterfinals, this time by two-time defending champion Ankeny Centennial. But the Women of Troy left a lasting impression with the way they competed, particularly in the do-or-die fourth set.
The second-ranked Jaguars (33-3) won 24-26, 25-16, 25-14, 25-23 and will play third-ranked West Des Moines Valley (41-4) in the semifinals. Eighth-ranked West bowed out with a 23-15 record.
The first set was an example of West at its best. Passes were on the mark, sets were in the right place and Emma Norris banged home eight kills all by herself. Emily Halverson and Colby Greene had four apiece. West had 16 kills, only three errors and a .327 attack percentage.
“We were definitely connecting with our setter and our passers,” Norris said. “We never let the ball fall, and we were not making errors. We just couldn’t carry it out the next two (sets).”
It was clear Centennial had to figure out something to do with Norris’s attacks from the outside. The Jaguars adjusted their defense, but also became more efficient offensively in winning the next two sets fairly easily.
“We were getting used to their offense,” Centennial libero Kylee Macke said. “We practiced against it, but just seeing it and in this environment too helped.”
“We got a block out there,” senior setter Meredith Sieck said. “We got Devyn (Robinson) out there to block her, and then our defense moved around so we could dig her.”
West’s attack slumped to 23 kills with 17 errors in the middle two sets. Hitting efficiency was down to .127 and .064. Meanwhile Centennial made just one error in each of the two middle sets and hit .384 and .400.
Outplayed in sets 2 and 3, West needed a good start to the fourth set but instead fell behind immediately. West coach Randy Dolson called a timeout with his team trailing 6-0.
“We all have these green ribbons tied on our shoes,” Halverson said. “It’s a reminder that we all need to believe in each other and that we’re not just playing for ourselves. So I think we all went out there and tried to do it for our teammates.”
West High senior Emily Halverson
The Jaguars boosted the lead to 8-0 before West scored on a service error, but that seemed to break the spell.
“We told ourselves that this very well might be our last game,” Norris said. “And we were going to win as a team or lose as a team. We wanted to make sure we left it all out on the floor. We decided to play for each other and just believe in ourselves.”
West got within 14-11 before the Jaguars scored on a block and a Kenna Sauer kill. Sauer led all players with 20 kills.
But West went on a run, scoring seven in a row, six with Halverson serving. She had two aces and two back-row kills in that run.
“We had a lot of energy, and our defense dug up a ton of balls,” Norris said. “We just connected as a team, and our energy just went through the roof.”
“I knew if we all stepped up our energy and stepped up our game and played together that we are unbeatable,” Halverson said. “I expected that we could do it, and we started to pick it up and that took us on that high.”
Centennial never took a timeout during the West flurry, and the Women of Troy were on the brink of sending the match to a fifth set with a 23-21 lead.
“We kind of got a little frustrated, and some things started to fall apart,” Sieck said. “But we kept fighting back. We tried to stay calm.”
West took timeout, but it was the Jags who scored twice to tie the set on a kill by Robinson and a West error.
Centennial took the lead on a tip kill by Sieck, who was serving the final three points but snuck up to the net for the nudge. A block by Kayla Jensen finished the match.
“We have grit,” Sieck said. “We practice those situations, so when we come here we’re very comfortable with any of those matches.”
To trail 8-0 with rally scoring to the state champions and still have a chance to win at the end was a testament to West’s own grit.
“The second and third sets we kind of beat ourselves,” Norris said. “The last set they beat us. We put up a good run. We should be very proud of ourselves for getting back in that game. We didn’t beat ourselves; they beat us in that game.”
Ankeny’s defense had 20 more digs than West’s. Macke led all players with 20, while Madi Ford led West with 14. Maddie Fay had 41 assists for West. Norris had 17 kills and Halverson 12.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to spend this season with anyone else,” Halverson said. “Every day at practice I looked forward to coming out.”