RED OAK, Iowa — The law of averages had been hovering over the Red Oak girls for several days.
The last six times the Tigers met Clarinda on a volleyball court, the match had gone to a decisive final set with Red Oak winning each time.
With her team’s state hopes hanging in the balance Thursday, the Tigers’ 6-foot-1 junior Grace Blomstedt said she couldn’t help but wonder if Clarinda’s turn was about to come.
“To be honest, I’ve been nervous the last few days,” she said. “I haven’t been able to sleep well. I know a lot of us haven’t been able to. All the pressure was on us, I felt like.”
Red Oak handled that pressure, wearing down Clarinda for a 19-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18 win in a Class 3-A regional semifinal in front of a spirited Halloween crowd at Red Oak gymnasium.
“We tried to keep the focus off of that,” Tigers coach Angie Montgomery said. “It’s a startling thing. It’s a pretty big statistic, but we kind of worked all week on really kind of finding that fire right away and not letting it get to five.”
The Tigers, rated sixth in the state, improved to 26-6 and will meet unrated Albia (16-9) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a regional final at Creston. Red Oak will be seeking its 12th state berth — all in the last 19 years — while Albia has never been to state.
Led by senior stars Darcy Sunderman (21 kills) and Jenny Bair (15), unrated Clarinda slugged toe-to-toe with the Tigers for most of the 95-minute match. However, late in the third set with the match squared at a set apiece, things began to tilt toward Red Oak.
With the Tigers up 17-16, there was some confusion on the Cardinals side, and Red Oak was awarded the point due to a substitution infraction. That started a 5-0 Red Oak burst, which included kills from Blomstedt and Angela Mahoney and a pair of Clarinda errors. The Tigers closed the set moments later on a Courtney Billings kill.
“That’s when we kind of went down,” Cardinals coach Jessica Lewey said. “Our blocks weren’t there tonight, and they should have been. We missed serves in parts of the game that we normally don’t.”
Clarinda fell behind 8-3 in the fourth, and spent the rest of the set straining to remain in contention. The 5-10 Sunderman, a Northwest Missouri State recruit, had six kills in the fourth set as the Cardinals cut their deficit to two on three occasions but could get no closer.
Kate Walker, a 5-10 junior, pounded six of her match-high 22 kills in the fourth set for Red Oak while Blomstedt added five of her 11. Mahoney, a 5-9 sophomore, provided a strong attack from the outside with 12 kills, as the Tigers were able to stay in system more than their opponent in the later stages of the match.
The 6-1 Blomstedt played sparingly in the back row last season. She’s played more this year, but has only been placed back there full time in the last three matches. She made some outstanding digs Thursday.
“I’m just glad she had faith in me,” Blomstedt said.
Said Montgomery: “We were on fire tonight. We did a great job in the back row, and we’ve got to keep that part of our game up.”
Clarinda graduates five seniors: Paige Fast, Natali Donahue and Karyee Buch, along with Sunderman and Bair, who were first-team All-Western Iowa selections last season.
“It won’t be quite the same without those two in the Hawkeye Ten next year,” Montgomery said.
Clarinda (19-10) ............................ 25 18 18 18
At Red Oak (26-6) ............................ 19 25 25 25
C (kills-aces-blocks): Rachael Bair 2-0-0, Paige Fast 0-0-0, Darcy Sunderman 21-0-0, Baillee Warren 1-0-0, Jenny Bair 15-1-0, Abby Brown 2-0-0, Shelby Foster 0-0-0, Natali Donahue 0-1-0, Karyee Buch 2-0-0.
RO: McKenna Mertz 0-0-0, Angela Mahoney 12-0-1, Makelti White 0-4-0, Grace Blomstedt 11-1-3, Kate Walker 22-0-2, Courtney Billings 2-2-2, Blake Bergren 1-0-1, Madison Gilbert 2-1-2, Sabrina Guerra 0-0-0.
Set assists: C, R. Bair 36, Sunderman 2, Warren 1. RO, Billings 27, White 17, Bergren 4, Blomstedt 1.