MOUNT PLEASANT — The Notre Dame High School volleyball team has been riding a wave of emotion all season.
Now, the Nikes will ride that wave all the way to the state tournament, and straight into the school history book.
The Nikes had to dig deep to polish off WACO, winning 25-22, 25-18, 25-15 in a Class 1A regional final on Wednesday night at Mount Pleasant High School.
Notre Dame (17-5), ranked 14th, will play second-ranked Wapsie Valley (20-7) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids.
It is the Nikes’ first trip to the state tournament.
As the final kill of the match, a dump by junior setter Jenna Bentz, hit the court, the Nikes hit the court and the celebration was on.
And a season’s worth of emotions came pouring out.
“This just feels amazing. It’s such a good win,” said Notre Dame senior defensive specialist Kerrigan Belger, who had seven digs. “They’re a good team, but we wanted it so bad.”
“The pass was perfect. Coach told me to dump it, so I dumped it,” said Jenna Bentz, who put up 31 assists on the night. “It felt really good. I was so excited because this is the first time we’ve made it to state.”
“It’s an amazing feeling. The first time in Notre Dame history going to state. We knew this was going to be a big game. Now here we are. We got it done,” said Notre Dame junior outside hitter Katy Stephens, who put down a match-high 17 kills. “It means so much. Everyone in the program has worked so hard. Everyone is in it for everyone else. I think we all really, really wanted it for each other, all the hate we’ve been getting. It’s so exciting. It’s such an accomplishment.”
WACO (26-8) gave the Nikes all they could handle for the first two games.
Neither team led by more that three points in the first half of the opening game as the Warriors’ block slowed down the Nikes’ offense.
“We don’t play too many teams that, across the board, are just as big or maybe bigger than us,” Notre Dame co-head coach Mike Davis said.
A series of three straight WACO hitting errors gave the Nikes a 19-14 lead. Three kills by Stephens and three more by Josie Bentz ended the first game.
“I think as a whole we all played pretty consistent,” said Josie Bentz, who had 12 kills. “I would say we all had pretty ‘on’ night. We were all hitting our spots, our zones, doing our jobs. I think that really helped, not only for me, but for everybody else.”
“I think we came out and we had to come out with a strong start. I knew if we did that, then we would be good,” said Notre Dame sophomore middle hitter Gabby Deery, who had seven kills. “I think we came out and we wanted to take care of them in three and that’s exactly what we did. We pushed every single point and we got the victory we needed.”
WACO took a 4-1 lead in the second game, only to see the Nikes come storming back. The game saw nine ties and five lead changes and neither team led by more than three points until a block by Abby Korschgen gave the Nikes a 20-16 lead and ended a 4-0 run off the serve of Stephens.
A pair of kills by Josie Bentz — including a one off a shoot from her twin sister — and a block by Maisey Belger helped the Nikes finish off the second game.
“We’ve been working on it a lot in practice, like hitting lines after hitting lines,” Josie Bentz said of the Nikes’ fast offense. “The coaches have been helping her and we have been giving (Jenna Bentz) positive feedback as hitters. She’s been taking it very, very well and we’ve been really clicking.”
“It really helps. I can get around those blocks much easier,” Deery added about the Nikes’ quicks.
WACO led early in the third game and held an 8-5 advantage.
But a back-row attack by Stephens sent the Nikes on an 11-0 run, including 10 straight points off the serve of senior libero Karli Artman.
“After the second set we knew we had it,” Stephens said. “They were down. We started off a little bit slow again third set, but we came back and we were really able to rally off the points and get the momentum back and got that big lead and it was over.”
Another 7-0 run, started by Stephens and including six points off the serve of Deery, brought the Nikes to match point.
“I think that really helped. We all got calmed down and we all took care of business at the end there,” Deery said.
Jenna Bentz did the honors, dumping the ball in a hole in the middle of the Warriors’ defense to set off the celebration.
“Our passes helped me a lot. They had some really good ups and some good digs to get those balls up so I could get them to my hitters,” Jenna Bentz said.
“I told my setter on a little called play to do that. She missed the first one, so we tried it again,” Davis said. “We knew that was open because they were waiting for the big hit. I just wanted to get that final point on the board because you never know. Until you get that final point, it’s a wide-open game.”
“That’s the best team we played against all year,” WACO coach Jay Coble said of Notre Dame. “I mean, three solid, quality hitters. (Jenna Bentz) is probably a D2 setter. NAIA or D2 setter. She’s just a junior, too. And they are so athletic. They can get up and block so well. That’s just hard to replicate. They’re really good. They’re really good. I thought there were a couple spots we could serve to, but even in serve reception they are good there. I think that group can do some damage at state.”
“That was heaven, I guess you could say. That was so fun,” Josie Bentz said.
“This is amazing,” Kerrigan Belger said. “We knew at the beginning of the season this was going to be where we ended it — at Cedar Rapids.”
Kills — Katy Stephens 17, Josie Bentz 12, Gabby Deery 7, Jenna Bentz 2, Abby Korschgen 1
Assists — Jenna Bentz 31, Karli Artman 1
Serving — Deery 1 ace, Artman 1 ace
Blocks — Deery 5, Maisey Belger 4, Jenna Bentz 2, Korschgen 1, Josie Bentz 1, Stephens 1
Digs — Artman 14, Josie Bentz 9, Stephens 8, Kerrigan Belger 7, Deery 4, M.Belger 3, Jenna Bentz 3, Korschgen 2,
Kills — Morgan Graber 13, Ellie Miles 6, Molly McLaughlin 4, Grace Coble 4, Lona Farrier 2, Ellah Kissell 2, Aubri Garnsey 2
Assists — Coble 25
Serving — Garnsey 3 aces, Lindsey Roth 1 ace, McLaughlin 1 ace
Blocks — Coble 2, Farrier 2, Kissell 1, Miles 1
Digs — Garnsey 19, McLaughlin 9, Graber 6, Coble 5, Roth 5
Records — Notre Dame 17-5, WACO 26-8