The ailment that killed City High a year ago in its championship match against West High was the very thing that won this year’s quarterfinal against West Des Moines Dowling. The Little Hawks served 12 aces and accounted for a number of other points on weak returns as they defeated the Maroons 26-24, 20-25, 25-16, 25-22.
“Our serving, and we really stepped it up in the back row today,” Rachel Rinehart said of the difference.
“Coming into the game, Pitch (City High coach Craig Pitcher) told us that our serving would win the game,” Abby Saehler said. “And definitely serving aggressively got them out of their system, so they gave us a free ball. So we knew it was important.”
City High (30-8) plays No. 1 Ankeny (30-6 ) at noon Friday in the semifinals. Dowling ended its season 33-11.
Saehler served six aces and four came in a critical stretch in set one when City erased an 8-5 lead and took an 11-8 lead. Later in the same set, Sabrina Rogers served two of her four aces in a seven-point City High run to take control 19-12.
“Once you get aced or have a bad pass a couple times, you definitely get down on yourself,” Saehler said of the emotional impact of good serving. “Your confidence goes down.”
By the same token, the serving team’s confidence soars.
Dowling came back, but Saehler saved set point with a tip kill, followed with an ace serve and Dowling’s poor pass gave the Little Hawks the set.
The Maroons took set two with a five-point run to break a 19-all tie. Pitcher thought his team didn’t serve nearly as aggressively in that set, and it enabled Dowling to get into its system and City was stuck in a defensive mode.
But City came back and won the third set with three big runs beginning midway through with Ruth Grace, Rogers and Michaela Nelson serving.
“Their blocking made us work harder,” Saehler said. “We just weren’t covering, but we responded with our defense.”
City had to find an answer to Dowling’s quick, short sets to their middles, which were finding the floor with regularity.
“We had to adjust to their hitters because they were running a lot faster offense,” Rinehart said. “Our middles did a great job of stepping up and jumping sooner with them, and our outsides tried to get in sooner, too.”
“We got on our blocks a lot earlier,” Nelson said.
At times City looked sluggish, allowing Dowling to find holes in the middle of the defense, and players said they have to continue to play with emotion and all-out effort to be successful.
“Once we came out and played with energy, that helped a lot,” Nelson said. “We got excited, and we were able to execute and pass a lot better in those games.”
Dowling led the fourth set, although both teams had trouble putting two points together at the beginning. City rallied from a 9-6 deficit to take a 10-9 lead on a kill and a block by Liz Hubing and an Aliyah Gustafson kill.
City took a 14-11 lead with Rogers serving and had a four-point run with an ace, two Nelson kills and a Dowling error. Another four-point run with Grace serving that included three Rinehart kills put City ahead 20-15, and Dowling could never catch up.
“There was a point where we just needed to step it up and finish the game instead of keep staying with them,” Nelson said.
Saehler had 14 kills, Rinehart 12 and Nelson 11. Hubing and Gustafson had seven kills apiece. Rinehart had an outstanding .462 kill efficiency (Saehler was at .429) and she had 13 digs. Grace had 15 digs and 38 assists.