CEDAR RAPIDS -- Waterloo Columbus coach Hanna Nuss was confident her volleyball team had the training and experience to complete a marathon.

Pushed to the brink of elimination by Carroll Kuemper Catholic's tall and powerful squad during Thursday's Class 3A semifinal, the Sailors navigated the long road back to the state finals.

Third-ranked Columbus dodged a third set match point and rallied from two sets down to defeat No. 2 Kuemper in a five-set thriller, 16-25, 21-25, 29-27, 25-19, 15-11.

A Columbus team that was defeated by Western Christian in last year's 2A championship will face Sioux Center, a five set come-from-behind winner over Osage, 2:30 p.m. Friday for the 3A title.

"What we talked about as we were prepping for the state tournament is that some of these teams haven't had to battle like we have all season, you can probably outlast them," Nuss said. "You may not necessarily be better, but if you can just keep driving consistently, you can get the job done. That's what we saw today."

Columbus' standout senior Anna Sinnott leaned on her teammates to free up space against a lock-down Kuemper defense that held her to one kill in the first set. She recorded 30 of her match-high 31 kills over the final four frames while senior teammate Olivia Fain distributed 55 assists.

Sydney Schultz added 16 kills and Avery Kroll 13 for Columbus.

Sinnott now has a two-match state total of 61 kills and Fain 107 assists as they've approached 3A's single-match tournament records of 32 kills and 58 assists.

"We told each other that we needed to play as a team," Sinnott said, addressing the adjustments made after she was stymied early. "I think that's what brought us back is working together instead of working as individuals. We just told each other that we needed to be all-in."

While Columbus showed signs of life in set two by overcoming an 11-6 deficit to tie the frame eight times, Kuemper fended off a series of Sailor attacks with impressive digs to win the final four points.

It looked like the end of the road in set three as a pair of Columbus attacks missed just wide to give Kuemper match point at 27-26. That's when senior middle Hanna Clasen stepped up with one of her five kills. A Sinnott kill later produced Columbus' fifth set point and a Kuemper attack missed its mark to extend the match.

"Our team does a great job of backing each other up and really coming through in those moments -- just saying, 'I've got you,'" Nuss related.

Trailing 10-9 in set four, Columbus went on a 5-0 go-ahead run capped by back-to-back Ana Ortiz aces and the Sailors eventually drew even.

Tied 11-all in the decisive fifth set, Sinnott delivered one final message of encouragement.

"At that point I looked at my fellow seniors and said, 'This is not our last game. We're going to make it into the championship and we're going to end our season and our careers there,'" she related. "We just came together. We all did our part, and we made it happen."

Sinnott recorded a kill and Kate Shannon capped the match with an ace during her four-point service run to secure the victory.

"I wasn't as confident as I should have been," Shannon said of her final serve. "But I was just swinging to swing and it thankfully went over. Once it hit the floor, it was a feeling I couldn't describe."

The junior libero committed to play volleyball at Iowa State wanted nothing more than to compete alongside her senior teammates in one more championship match.

"I've been playing with them forever," Shannon said, tears starting to surface. "It's very emotional."

Added Sinnott, "It's awesome to be able to know that we have that fight and we have that drive to get it done."

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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