Tritons fall in national semifinals

Tritons fall in national semifinals

CEDAR RAPIDS - The Iowa Central volleyball team came up short of playing for their first national title, falling to Parkland here Wednesday night in the NJCAA Div. II National Tournament.

The Cobras advance to meet Johnson County in the finals on Thursday after they topped top-seed Illinois Central. The Tritons will meet Illinois Central for third-place at 3 p.m. 

Playing in the semifinals for the first time in program history, Iowa Central (21-4 overall) continued to fight until the very end. Kealey Anderson had 12 kills with five digs and three assists, Katilyn Steffes added seven kills and eight digs, Angel Baylark had six kills and Alesha Johnson 27 assists.

In the opening set, Anderson had six kills and Johnson three with 11 assists, but the Cobras were able to use a 8-3 run down the stretch to gain the early lead. 

Parkland, who has qualified for nationals 13 consecutive seasons, will be playing in its sixth title game in the last seven years. The Cobras won gold in 1999, 2015 and '16, finishing as runners-up in 2018 and '19. 

Halle Everett had 17 kills, Hailey Sperling 16 and Summerlyn Smith 45 assists to lead Parkland. 

"I'm proud of the way our girls came out to star the match," Iowa Central head coach Sara Horn said. "Parkland has a great team and a storied program, and we didn't let the name on the back of their jersey affect how we played.

"They had a lot of girls step up and play really well offensively, and their block slowed our offense down."

Iowa Central was able to tie the second set on a handful of instances before the Cobras reeled off another key rally to close it. They did the same in the third, scoring four of the final five points of the match.

Haley Alharithy added four kills and three digs while Baylark had two solo blocks. Molly McCauley recorded two serving aces, two digs and a kill with Darlynn Okinaka also registering an ace. 

This is the sixth appearance for the Tritons all-time at nationals, and will result in their highest-finish in school history. 

"We're ready to come back (Thursday) and win that third place match," Horn said.

-By Dana Becker