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Humboldt breaks through

For the first time in school history, Wildcats qualify for state volleyball

—Submitted photo Humboldt’s eight seniors gather around the state tournament qualifier banner on Tuesday in Schaller.

SCHALLER — It took every ounce of energy and heart for the Humboldt volleyball team to finally clear their toughest hurdle yet here on Tuesday.

Now the Wildcats are headed to the state tournament for the first time in school history.

In a five-set thriller that took fans through a rollercoaster ride of emotions, it was 10th-ranked Humboldt that finally emerged victorious in a Class 3A, Region 2 championship match against No. 6 MOC-Floyd Valley. The Wildcats prevailed, 25-21, 25-20, 21-25, 23-25, 18-16, in a showdown that saw them go from being in total command to having to fight just to stay alive.

In the end, head coach Justin McDaniel’s squad found a way.

“I can’t even begin to express how happy and proud I am of this team,” McDaniel said. “I’m overjoyed. After being in the regional finals five years in a row (and coming up empty), it just feels like a huge weight has been lifted and the monkey is off our back.”

Humboldt (33-3 overall) swept through the first two sets and appeared to be on cruise control before MOC-FV (24-5) staged a furious rally. The Dutchmen escaped with wins in the third and fourth sets, knotting the match and forcing a deciding fifth game.

MOC-FV then immediately went up 5-1, forcing the Wildcats to take a timeout. Humboldt responded by scoring 10 of the next 13 points for an 11-8 advantage on a senior Kendal Clark kill.

The Dutchmen appeared to gain the upper-hand for good, though, stealing momentum and taking it to match point with a 14-12 edge.

“It got a little stressful in that fifth set,” McDaniel said. “It was just pure resilience and determination at that point, leaning on all of our seniors to make sure (a heartbreaking outcome in the regional finals) wouldn’t happen again.”

It didn’t. With senior Deni McDaniel serving, the Wildcats not only staved off elimination but reached match point themselves at 15-14. MOC-FV tied it up twice, but a Clark kill finished it at 18-16.

“It was just an awesome moment,” McDaniel said. “No one panicked. Our outside hitters really stepped up. And everyone stayed even-keeled.

“I’ve coached a lot of these seniors since they were in third or fourth grade. They’re like family to me — I feel like I have eight senior daughters.”

Clark recorded 29 kills and 39 digs. Jori Hajek had 21 and 37, respectively.

McDaniel finished with 61 assists. McDaniel and Lily Groat contributed 20 digs each. Emily Zaugg, McDaniel and Groat led the way in blocks.

Hajek was a perfect 14 of 14 serving, with McDaniel going 25-for-26 at the service line, including five aces.

Humboldt will take on top-ranked and No. 1 seed Osage (31-2) in a 3A state quarterfinal at 8 p.m. on Monday in Cedar Rapids.

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