IOWA FALLS - The Iowa Central volleyball team is suddenly making a habit out of reaching a goal that had long been out of their reach.
The ninth-ranked Tritons will make a return trip to the national tournament after defeating Ellsworth here Saturday. Scores were 25-13, 21-25, 25-11 and 25-17 in the Region XI-A championship match.
Iowa Central (34-10 overall) also qualified for nationals a year ago, but this marks just the fourth trip in program history. The Tritons advanced in 2006 as well.
''I'm incredibly proud of our kids,'' first-year ICCC head coach Fredrick Wagner said. ''They really played hard and showed focus through some adversity. We were forced to step up and win the match, and they got the job done.
''We definitely faced a worthy opponent. We had beaten Ellsworth twice during the regular season (in three games both times), but they made some changes and came out ready. They weren't going to lie down and just give us a free pass to nationals.''
The Panthers (23-17) did manage to steal the second game and momentarily even the match up, but Iowa Central - this season's Region XI overall champion - maintained its composure and took the final two games with ease on Ellsworth's home court.
Tournament MVP Alicia Moreno registered 16 kills for the Tritons, who have won 30 of their last 34 matches after a 4-6 start to the season. Brittany Vaske (Algona) and Nadia Morneau also made the all-tournament squad.
Morneau chipped in 11 kills.
''Our 'big four' (Moreno, Morneau, Vaske and Gabriel Reyes) did well again, but everyone came through in their own way,'' Wagner said. ''That's been the theme of this season, along with our defense, which was outstanding and has really been the key factor in getting to this point.
''We've been working hard all year to establish ourselves as a defense-oriented team. I think that was the difference (on Saturday).''
Iowa Central, which faced 17 Top-20 opponents during the regular season, had 11 service aces in the victory.
''We faced a much tougher schedule, which prepared us well,'' Wagner said. ''It wasn't always a smooth path, but it was the right one to take.''
The Tritons open NJCAA Div. II national tournament action Nov. 15 in Toledo, Ohio.