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CEDAR RAPIDS — Madison Larson knows there’s work to be done this offseason. She’s confident her Independence volleyball team will embrace the challenge.

Long, powerful and athletic, Class 4A’s top-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier revealed the level of play it takes to be a championship contender as the Saints imposed their will upon Independence 25-16, 25-10, 25-23 Tuesday night inside the U.S. Cellular Center.

“Coming here was really crazy,” said Larson, a six-foot junior outside hitter who led Independence with six kills and added three blocks and nine digs. “The atmosphere is amazing. It was a learning experience. Next year we’re going to be back and we’re going to be better.”

Larson is one of four junior starters for a No. 12-ranked Independence team (33-9) that pushed the program back to state for the first time since the Mustangs’ 2013 debut.

A Xavier squad (32-9) that is battled-tested against Class 5A competition inside the Mississippi Valley Conference didn’t let Independence hang around in the first two sets. University of Missouri-St. Louis commit Charlotte Richards, one of five returning starters from last year’s semifinal run, led the Saints with 14 kills. Xavier held a commanding 9-1 advantage in service aces.

“Independence is a phenomenal team and we were fortunate to put a little pressure on them and get some early leads,” Xavier coach Austin Filer said. “We came with a focus. We felt a little bit of what this feels like last year and wanted a little bit more of it this year.”

Independence held a 6-3 advantage in blocks and a 45-43 edge in digs with 16 from libero Sydney Hearn. The Mustangs’ resilience came to surface in set three when they overcame a 10-3 deficit, but couldn’t finish off the Saints.

“In the middle of the third set we started to wake up, but there’s only so much you can do,” Larson said. “It felt like Independence volleyball. We finally came out and played.”

Independence coach Joe Schmitz echoed Larson’s sentiment that this team has the potential for more success.

“These kids love volleyball, they’re very smart and they’re hard workers,” Schmitz said. “I think next year could be a real special year for Independence volleyball. They’ve got to pay the price in the offseason, work their tails off and be ready to come back.”

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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