First-year head coach Fredrick Wagner spent the early portion of this season waiting for a player to emerge as the leader of the Iowa Central volleyball team.
As it turns out, Wagner had a handful of them all along.
Four days after securing the regular-season ICCAC championship, the ninth-ranked (NJCAA Div. II) Tritons opened their national tournament quest with a Region XI victory over Marshalltown here Tuesday.
Scores were 25-11, 25-13 and 25-19 in favor of top-seeded Iowa Central.
Wagner admitted there was an adjustment period for his players in the infant stages of the year, when the Tritons got off to an inauspicious 4-6 start. Iowa Central (33-10 overall) has reeled off 29 victories in 33 matches since, and now appears to be in prime position for a national encore.
''(The coaching staff) was looking for that one leader to step forward and take charge,'' Wagner said. ''What we began to realize, though, is that we have kind of a collective voice as a team. Everyone knows their (respective) role both on and off the court and it works. All of our players are leaders in their own way and accept that responsibility well.''
Iowa Central was never seriously challenged by the Tigers (14-25) in front of a vocal home crowd inside Hodges Fieldhouse last night. The Tritons trailed only momentarily at the start of the second game, and while Marshalltown inched a little closer in each stanza, the end result was never in doubt.
All-American Alicia Moreno registered 12 kills for Iowa Central, while Nadia Morneau added 11 kills. Algona graduate Brittany Vaske came up with eight kills and three blocks in the victory.
The Tritons, who qualified for nationals a year ago, will now face homestanding Ellsworth (23-16) at noon on Saturday in Iowa Falls with the winner advancing as the Region XI-A champion.
Iowa Central swept the Panthers twice during the regular season.
''(Reaching the national tournament) was the goal from day one, but it took us a while to get to this point,'' Wagner said. ''There were a lot of expectations coming into the season. We had to establish an identity, though; this wasn't the same kind of lineup that was here a year ago, so it required a lot of hard work and togetherness to reach (the final match).''
Area players Vaske - a sophomore - and freshman Shelby Schindler (Algona) started for the Tritons, while sophomore Marisa Gibson (Fort Dodge) was the first to come in off the bench.
Wagner thanked the Iowa Central supporters in the stands, saying ''it really fired our kids up.''
''We were so excited to see all of the fans,'' Wagner said. ''It meant a lot to us. We didn't have a lot of home matches this year (just five during the regular season), so it was nice to have such an awesome crowd supporting the team.''
The Tritons have reached nationals just three times in program history. Iowa Central is now 77-16 in the last two years combined.
At the ICCAC Showcase last Saturday in Marshalltown, the Tritons outlasted seventh-rated Kirkwood in five games to clinch the conference title. It was the first league setback of the season for the Eagles (35-8, 8-1).
The national tournament is Nov. 15-17 in Toledo, Ohio.