CEDAR RAPIDS — A local Cedar Valley volleyball show hit the big stage late Wednesday afternoon.
Waterloo Columbus and Sumner-Fredericksburg brought a taste of the competition that has defined the North Iowa Cedar League this season into Cedar Rapids’ U.S. Celllular Center for the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state tournament.
Despite being swept in two previous meetings with their conference rivals, Columbus wasn’t intimidated in this high stakes rematch. The Sailors rallied from a set down to stun last year’s Class 2A state finalists with a four-set victory, 23-25, 29-27, 25-20, 25-20.
“We knew we could do it,” Columbus senior Lauren McManus said of her team’s breakthrough win, one year removed from losing to eventual 3A champion Nevada in the first round. “It’s the state tournament. Anything can happen.”
It marked the first opening-round state tournament loss in four trips for a No. 3-ranked Sumner-Fredericksburg team (33-6) that had only been defeated by perennial powerhouse Western Christian in its previous three tournament runs. With a pair of dynamic four-year contributors in UNI recruit Jaydlin Seehase and Winona State recruit Becca Pagel, the Cougars were looking forward to a potential opportunity to end their season with a championship.
Instead, it was No. 10-ranked Columbus (28-12) that continued its late-season rise into Thursday’s 4 p.m. semifinal against No. 2 Unity Christian (35-4).
“I was at a loss of words,” Sumner-Fredericksburg coach Gwen Pagel said of the setback. “It’s not what we expected to happen. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle. We knew it wasn’t going to be in three for either team, but we just had so much success with these girls.”
Seehase finished with 19 kills and Becca Pagel 15 kills to go with 19 digs, but it took Sumner-Fredericksburg’s two lead attackers a total of 111 swings to get there.
“They scouted us well,” Becca Pagel said. “Kudos to them for playing their hearts out and they played awesome games. We just didn’t step up and perform as well as we needed to win. ... We’ve obviously very disappointed. We had a bigger end goal in mind.”
Columbus’ sophomore libero Kate Shannon pestered the Cougar attackers with 29 digs and senior outside hitter Lauren McManus added 16 digs to go with seven kills.
“They’re studs,” McManus said of Sumner-Fredericksburg’s top attackers. “They’re unreal, but we knew that we could dig them if we needed to. ... Defense, we were really structured. We just had to get touches on the ball and our offense had to put the ball down.”
The Sailors showed strong improvisational ability, as well, whether it be digging a ball out of the net or coming through with an off-balance touch to keep a point alive.
After the two teams traded a pair of two-point wins in the opening sets, Columbus broke free from a 20-all tie in set three with a 5-0 closing run and won the first four points of set four. When Sumner-Fredericksburg rallied to tie the final frame at 18, Columbus answered with a 4-0 run. Anna Sinnott went on to terminate the final point with her match-high 27th kill.
“We have a really good competitive drive,” Sinnott said. “Our sets and passes were really good today. It starts with a pass and we had that today.”
One key adjustment Columbus made was the move to a two-setter system that allowed for an extra blocker. Sydney Shannon finished with 23 assists and Olivia Fain 19.
“Anytime you do something that drastic it can really knock some girls down, but our girls bought in,” Columbus coach Hanna Nuss said. “Going up against Sumner-Fredericksburg, we felt like that’s a switch we needed to make. We know we have the setters that we can do it. We need to get one more blocker up there getting us touches.”