NEOLA, Iowa – With 11 days since its last match and dealing with a motivated opponent, Class 2-A No. 7 Tri-Center had to take its game to another level in its Class 2-A, Region 4 quarterfinal against rival Underwood.
The Trojans (29-7) did just that for the 25-23, 25-8, 25-17 win. They jumped to big leads in each of the final two sets after coming from behind to win the opening stanza.
The Eagles (23-13), who were playing for the first time since the death of friend ShyAnne Larsen on Friday, used their defense to lead for most of the opening set but could not find enough offense for the win.
Nearly the entire Tri-Center gymnasium Tuesday was clad in blue, as the Trojan fans organized a “Blue Out” to support their Western Iowa Conference comrades.
Trojan coach Rachel Eikenberry said it was an emotional night for both teams.
“Those emotions fed them early and that is the best that I have seen them play,” Eikenberry said. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, they are playing for a greater cause,’” referring to Larsen, who died in a car accident. “It’s scary to play teams like that.”
Tri-Center used a 5-0 run to jump out to an 8-3 lead before the Underwood defense started to take over. The Eagles used four blocks and several outstanding digs to take its first lead at 14-13, which eventually extended to 21-16. The Trojans forced some late Underwood errors, however, and a pair of Olivia Maassen kills bookended a 9-2 run to give the hosts the opener 25-23.
“We have been working really hard at practice but we were ready to just play another team,” outside hitter Emma McDonald said. “We want to get back into our groove and play how we know how to.”
After that hotly contested first set, Tri-Center used the powerful hitting of McDonald to run away with the second. The Trojans jumped out to a 17-2 lead on the way to a 25-8 rout, with McDonald pounding out nine of her 13 kills.
“Emma struggled statistically the most, when we lost to Treynor in our last match,” Eikenberry said. “It was good to see her overcome that and not get stuck in that gear, because she has the potential be a game-changer at any time she chooses.”
The Trojans jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the third set, as they looked for the sweep. Underwood pulled within one twice, including at 11-10, before Brooklyn Hundt laced two kills and combined with Lilly Dahir for a block to lead Tri-Center to the finish.
The Trojans advance to a regional semifinal Thursday back at home against ACGC.
“We got to clicking as the match went on,” McDonald said. “We had good passes to our setter and the sets were on point.”
Underwood (23-13)..............23 8 17
Tri-Center (29-7)................25 25 25
U: Megan Freese (3-0-1), Peyton Cook (1-0-4), Lauren Brown (2-0-4), Zoe Rus (6-0-0), Ashley Vanfossan (1-0-0), Macy Vanfossan (8-1-1). Set assists: Cook 16. Digs: Erin McMains 11.
T: Presley Pogge (2-0-1), Olivia Maassen (7-2-0), Lilly Dahir (1-0-1), Miranda Ring (1-0-0), Brooklyn Hundt (6-0-1), Tatum Carlson (2-0-1), Emma McDonald (13-2-0). Set assists: Dahir 25. Digs: Maassen 8.