NEOLA, Iowa — Rachel Landen thought it might be a good Tuesday when her Underwood volleyball team began its match with 11 straight points.
The night became downright unforgettable after she helped the Eagles get back to the Western Iowa Conference tournament finals.
Landen's push kill for third-seeded Underwood put the finishing touches on a 25-16, 13-25, 25-20, 27-25 victory against host and second seed Tri-Center in the WIC semifinal Tuesday. The Eagles will make their first championship appearance since winning the tourney in 2009.
“Our start set a high tone,” Landen said. “Once we saw that, we knew we could keep pushing and keep going throughout the match.”
Iowa Class 2-A No. 6 Treynor beat Missouri Valley in the other semifinal to set up Thursday's showdown at Tri-Center. Underwood won in five sets earlier in the season.
The Eagles (21-8) move on with plenty of momentum after shutting down a Trojans squad that swept them last week. They exasperated Tri-Center's hard-swinging hitters with a stingy back-row performance anchored by Chelsie Hardesty (38 digs), Regan Landen (26) and Rachel Landen (19).
And in the Eagles' vertically challenged fashion, they played lockdown defense without the benefit of a single block.
“This is our team,” Underwood coach Paula Carman said. “Last week when we played them, we were out of sync in every skill area. This was more our area. We have some challenges due to our size, but tonight we showed we can overcome.”
Underwood nearly blew a 24-20 lead in the fourth and final set. Shelby Sullivan collected three kills as T-C ran off five straight points and put the Trojans (21-9) ahead 25-24 by knocking down an overpass.
But McKinsey Rodenburg connected on a tying kill, followed by another termination from Hardesty. Rachel Landen guided the last ball into the back left corner in a frenetic final rally.
“I tried to push it deep,” Landen said, grinning. “Thankfully she missed it.”
Everything started well for the visitors when they pocketed 11 points to begin the contest and cruised to a first-set victory. But Tri-Center, trying to defend its tournament title, responded with an 18-3 run in the second to square it.
The Eagles again crafted a long stretch of celebrations to take control of the third. Down 7-4, they won 14 of the next 16 exchanges before denying a late comeback try from the Trojans.
“I think they frustrated our hitters and tried to do a little too much at times,” Tri-Center coach Brian Wedemeyer said. “I just think they played better defense than we did.
“Volleyball's funny with that. We just made too many errors.”
Malory Christiansen paced Tri-Center with 17 kills, while Sullivan added 13. For Underwood, Rodenburg finished with 12 and Rachel Landen chipped in 11.
The two schools, which had split a pair of matches before Tuesday, will likely meet again later this month in a 2-A, Region 2 postseason match Oct. 23 in Underwood.
The loss to Tri-Center last week cost the Eagles an unbeaten league regular season. Carman said a big finish to this week would go a long way toward some on-court redemption.
“I'll just be happy if we come and play our style of ball, we do what we're physically capable of and we give them the best effort we can,” Carman said. “That's all that we expect every night.”
Underwood (21-8) 25132527
Tri-Center (21-9) 16252025
U (kills-aces-blocks): Lea Crouse 3-2-0, Regan Landen 6-1-0, McKinsey Rodenburg 12-0-0, Rachel Landen 11-1-0, Madicen Fanslau 0-1-0, Allison Waters 3-0-0, Chelsie Hardesty 9-1-0, Cassie Cooper 1-0-0, Maddy Powell 9-0-0.
TC: Sammy Andersen 0-0-0, Morgan Sullivan 3-1-1, Malory Christiansen 17-3-0, Emily Baatz 2-2-0, Anna Spomer 6-1-0, Shelby Sullivan 13-3-3, Kirsten Lehan 3-0-1.
Set assists: U, Crouse 25, Cooper 12, Rodenburg 3, Powell 2, Waters 1, Hardesty 1. TC, Baatz 30, Andersen 1, Spomer 1.
Treynor moves past Missouri Valley
Treynor started slow. But this time it wouldn't be denied a spot in the Western Iowa Conference title match.
Gracie Myers pelted a match-high 24 kills and the Class 2-A No. 6 Cardinals overcame an early deficit to dispatch Missouri Valley 27-29, 25-17, 25-19, 25-15 in the first WIC semifinal match at Tri-Center on Tuesday evening.
The Cardinals (28-5) didn't let Missouri Valley (18-9) stick around after the Lady Reds upset them in last year's tournament. They dropped the first set, then won each remaining frame by at least six points.
Treynor closed the second set on a 10-5 run, and claimed 11 of 14 during a third-set stretch to take command.
Missouri Valley (18-9)....................29 17 19 15
Treynor (28-5)..........................27 25 25 25
MV (kills-aces-blocks): Baily Janssen 1-1-2, Kyra Skelton 9-1-5, Kimiko Wagner 1-0-3, Rachelle Housh 14-2-2, Hailey Hellstrom 7-1-1, Becca Taylo 0-1-0, Taylor Gardner 11-1-3.
T: Lexis Rogers 0-0-0, Alexis Woods 14-3-1, Gracie Myers 24-1-1, Tracy Purdy 3-0-1, Chaley Rath 14-2-3, Madison Keysor 1-1-1, Emma Fiene 7-2-0.
Set assists: MV, Janssen 33, Skelton 2, Hellstrom 1, Housh 1, Gardner 1. T, Purdy 46, Keysor 9, Rath 1.