Just as she has been all year, senior Michaela Nelson was the focal point of the City High offensive attack Monday night.
Only this time, Nelson got more than a little help from her friends.
Nelson posted a match-high 13 kills to lead a group of four City volleyball players with at least six kills as the Little Hawks opened Class 5A Region 4 play with a 25-18, 28-26, 25-17 win over Cedar Rapids Prairie at City High.
Freshman Alexa Aldrich Ingram had 11 kills, Rylee Price had nine, and Allison Fleming added six as City advanced to take on Southeast Polk in the Region 4 semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday in Pleasant Hill.
“I love it when everybody gets together. We always play so much better as a team when we all get kills because then we have multiple threats coming at the defense,” Nelson said. “It’s honestly a ton of fun when I see all the other girls play the way they did tonight.”
Nelson had posted a team-high 243 kills this season entering Monday night’s postseason opener, 79 more than any other City player.
However, it was the Little Hawks’ balance that proved to be too much for Prairie to handle Monday.
Aldrich Ingram, Price and Fleming each had multiple sets with at least three kills as City High improved to 19-13.
“Michaela is good but she has to have help and tonight the other kids were ready to swing,” City coach Craig Pitcher said. “Alexa, Rylee and Allison, all given the chance, made some great swings tonight. That is what we have to do, we have to keep some type of balance.”
It was Nelson that got City going early, hammering three straight kills to give the Little Hawks a 4-1 lead in the opening set.
City would never trail after Nelson’s three-point swing on its way to a 25-18 win in the opening set.
“We have to be balanced,” Pitcher said. “At a 1A (school) you can get by with one player carrying you, but (in Class 5A), teams are too good. They can camp out and they have big blocks. It’s always going to be a little bit weighted to Michaela just because she is the one kid that has been here for a lot of years, but the balance is good.”
City took control of the match with a 28-26 win in back-and-forth second set.
The Little Hawks appeared to take control when Price’s kill gave City a 19-16 lead, but Prairie (16-19) responded with its best stretch of the match.
The Hawks rattle off five straight points to take a 21-19 lead, with the final three points coming on a pair of ace serves and an ace block.
A kill by Price stopped the run and City eventually tied the score at 22 with a kill by Nelson and a Prairie hitting error.
Prairie looked like it would even the match at one set apiece when sophomore Kate Busswitz gave the Hawks a 26-25 lead with a kill, but Aldrich Ingram and City answered back.
Facing set point, Aldrich Ingram hammered a cross-court kill and then gave City a 27-26 lead with her second straight kill.
“She is doing so well this year, she has been doing that almost every single game and it’s great,” Nelson said of Aldrich Ingram. “It’s really nice. She will be a big stud in the future for sure.”
With City leading 27-26, Fleming put the set away with her first kill of the second set.
Nelson had five kills in the second set while Aldrich Ingram had six of her 11 kills during the pivotal second set.
“Alexa came in and she was on fire tonight,” Pitcher said. “She did a great job. She’s not scared of anything. She goes up and gets her swings and she can also take a little bit off of it.”
Prairie led 5-2 early in the third set up City scored six of the next seven points to take a 8-6 lead and never trailed again.
City eventually put the third set away with a 9-2 run that stretched the Little Hawk lead to 19-11.
Price, Nelson and Fleming each had two kills during the 9-2 spurt.
“They kept pulling the blockers to Michaela and that opened up a lot for me and Alexa,” Price said. “We were able to get a lot of good swings and Michaela played awesome, also.”
Senior setter Ruth Grace had 33 kills for City High, which finished with seven ace serves.
Aldrich Ingram had three aces to lead the Little Hawks.
“We did a great job of serving the right kids, serving strong, serving hard,” Pitcher said. “Ultimately, I think that was the difference.”
Megan Sprengeler led Prairie with 11 kills, while Kate Busswitz added 10 kills for the Hawks.