Tritons advance in Region XI opener

When it mattered most, the Iowa Central volleyball team rose to the occasion here Tuesday night.

After building a 2-0 advantage, the second-seeded Tritons (19-23 overall) narrowly escaped with a five-game victory over No. 3 seed Southeastern (32-10) in a Region XI-A semifinal at Hodges Fieldhouse.

Scores were 26-24, 26-24, 20-25, 14-25 and 15-13.

“We were just going to come out and blow (the Blackhawks) out, but we decided that wouldn’t be exciting for the fans,” joked ICCC head coach Fredrick Wagner. “We weren’t really (nervous) at the beginning, but I think we were a little freaked out there at the end. When we crossed over (in the middle of the fifth set), we knew we had to play or (the season) would be over.”

Seeking its third straight trip to nationals and fifth in program history, Iowa Central will now face 14th-ranked (NJCAA Div. II) Des Moines Area (32-10) in a Region XI-A final here Saturday at 3 p.m. The top-seeded Bears, who swept the Tritons back on Oct. 16, advanced Tuesday by downing No. 4 seed Ellsworth, 25-15, 25-14 and 25-13.

In the decisive fifth set, Iowa Central trailed 13-9 before closing on a furious 6-0 burst. Freshman middle blocker Kennedi Simon delivered two clutch kills and a block during that pivotal stretch.

“Our middles were big for us,” Wagner said. “Both (Shelby) Schindler and Simon gave a great effort (last evening).”

The Blackhawks were actually only one point away from winning both Games 1 and 2. With their backs against the wall, the Tritons answered each time with a mini 3-0 run.

“We are a strong team, and our past couple of matches against (No. 4 Div. I) Iowa Western and (No. 7 Div. II) Kirkwood were both very close,” said Wagner. “We just had that moment (Tuesday) when we decided we could finish.”

All knotted at 14 in the third set, Southeastern staved off elimination by reeling off 11 of the last 17 points. Iowa Central also watched the Blackhawks slam the door in the fourth game with a 15-4 flurry.

Schindler (Bishop Garrigan) collected 12 kills and four blocks for Iowa Central, while Simon posted 10 kills and four blocks. Kaila Hurley, a freshman outside hitter, added 11 kills and three aces.

“Hurley really helped us get going in that second set,” Wagner said.

Tuesday’s see-saw match featured a combined 95 ties and lead changes, including 29 in Game 2 alone.

During the regular season, the Tritons also prevailed over Southeastern in five games, 25-20, 24-26, 25-20, 22-25 and 15-10.

The 2013 NJCAA Div. II National Championships are set for Nov. 21-23 at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio.