Much like the previous 33 victories, the Jays of Coach Mike Meyer took that last step to Iowa's Class 1A state tournament by spreading the wealth in a 25-17, 25-14, 25-14 victory over River Valley in a regional final hosted by East High.
No. 2-ranked Gehlen earned its third straight state tournament berth as 5-10 junior Katelin Langel led the way with eight kills and 14 digs.
Steph Rohe and sophomore Allison Schnepf added six kills each while Mollie Nemmers added five and Kenzie Kellen four for a team that has spent the last year lamenting a five-game semifinal loss to eventual champion Tripoli.
"We've got to be happy with the win,'' said Meyer, guiding Gehlen for a sixth season after 16 years at the helm at Northwestern College. "It was the best team we've faced in the postseason and they do some things that made us work.''
Gehlen will face ninth-ranked East Union, 32-4, in first-round action at noon next Thursday at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, the tournament's temporary home for this year only after 20 years at the U.S. Cellular Center.
No. 13 River Valley fell behind 11-4 in Game 1 and the Wolverines seemed to be backpedaling the rest of the night. They got within six points on two occasions late in that opening set, but could come no closer. And, the Jays took charge early again in the second and third games, surging in front 13-6 in Game 2 and 14-6 in Game 3, both of which yielded the same scores.
Meyer gave special kudos to Kellen, one of the two 5-11 seniors who play the middle for the Jays. Kellen had a hand in a team-leading five blocks, four of them assists.
"Kenzie did a great job going up against an all-state middle,'' said Meyer, referring to River Valley's Kari Ludvigson, a 5-11 senior who garnered third-team all-state laurels last year. "I thought we did a really good job of controlling the net.''
River Valley's Ludvigson had a match-leading nine kills as her team bowed out at 27-11.
"This was one of our best seasons in a long time and we're proud of how far we got,'' said Ludvigson, one of seven seniors in an eight-player rotation for the Wolverines. "They took advantage of our right-side defense and we just didn't have an answer for it.''
"We had to work for it,'' said Timmins, Gehlen's 5-10 senior playmaker. "The nice thing about our team is that I can set everyone. If someone's having a bad night, someone else can get the job done.''
As freshmen, Gehlen's seniors played on a team that lost a regional final match. As sophomores, they reached the state tournament, losing in the opening round. Then, last year, the Jays moved forward to the semifinals and very nearly sprang a monumental upset over Tripoli and Coach Will Baumann, son of the River Valley coach.
Winning the first two games against the two-time defending state champs, Gehlen wound up losing in five sets and Tripoli went on to claim its third title in a row to go with the six out of seven the Panthers won from 1999 through 2005.
"We think about that match every day,'' reflected Kellen, whose team will be opposite another top-ranked Tripoli team as the No. 2 seed on the bracket. "We want to go back and redeem ourselves.''