MONTICELLO, Iowa – They scratched and clawed, but they just couldn't grab the final win to advance.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy fought the entire match, but third-ranked Dubuque Hempstead earned a 22-25, 25-21, 25-16, 27-25 win in the Class 5A Region 5 final Tuesday night at Monticello High School. The Mustangs advance to the state tournament for the second straight year and fifth time in the last six seasons.
"They're fighters," Kennedy Coach Michelle Goodall said. "They did their very best. They had an outstanding effort."
The Cougars struck first, claiming nine of the final 13 points to win the opening set. Hempstead had a tough task coming away with the next three.
"This was a match that kind of took your breath away," Hempstead Coach Randy Dolson said. "It was nip and tuck the whole way. Kennedy played an excellent match. They really attacked well."
It wasn't enough to overcome the quicker paced and more experienced Hempstead squad. The Mustangs (29-6) closed the second set, winning six of the last seven points. Audrey Reeg ended the set with one of her game-high 19 kills.
Karrah Davis had nine kills and Rachel Cummer added six, including the final point in the third set, which Hempstead seized control with leads of 17-7 and 18-9.
"They knew where to hit it where we weren't," said Kennedy's Jordan Calef, who had 10 kills. "They knew exactly what to do."
Lexi Rogers led the team with 11 kills and Erin Coker added nine. Libero Madi Meier received praise for her play from Goodall. She had 16 digs. The Cougars blocking system was off, according to Goodall.
"I'll attribute that to their tempo," Goodall said. "We struggled on the block."
In that third set, the Cougars suffered a key loss. Senior setter Bree Boote, who battled tendonitis in her ankle to play Tuesday night, left the game at the end of the third set.
She demonstrated toughness playing as much as she did, wearing a walking boot recently and attending physical therapy before the game.
"No way," Boote said about missing the game. "I've been in a walking boot for a week and a half now. I told my coach there's no way I'm not playing."
Unfortunately, Boote left the game after colliding into the wooden panel of the scorer's table, chasing down and diving for a ball while helping the Cougars fend off set-point in the third.
A trainer helped her to the bench, where she iced her right temple. Boote, visibly upset, was assisted off a chair and walked to the other bench during the changeover between sets. She did not return to action, finishing with 13 assists. Anna Fluent led Kennedy with 14.
Afterward, Boote said she was still dizzy with a bump on the front-right part of her head and was going to the emergency room for further examination. She didn't remember the play. Just running for the ball and then sitting on the bench.
"She's a tough kid," said Goodall, noting that Boote unnecessarily apologized for being injured. "Not the way you want to see any kid go down in her senior year."
Boote was moved by her teammate's effort that followed, trading points back and forth with Hempstead, which closed with a kill from Reeg and a point when the official called a double-hit on the Cougars.
"My team fought to the end," Boote said. "I'm so proud of them."
The loss doesn't cast a shadow over Kennedy's improvement from being swept by the Mustangs early in the season. The Cougars have developed into a strong team, going from 1-6 to 24-13.
"They really evolved," Goodall said. "I had a feeling it might take them a little bit, because of our turnover. We had some rebuilding. They really did a nice job."