ELDRIDGE — As each Clinton volleyball player came out of the locker room Tuesday night, Micah Cewe was there to greet them with a hug.
With his best player not in uniform, down two sets to none against Class 4A 10th-ranked North Scott and dodging three match points, Cewe saw a level of determination he hadn't seen from his Clinton squad in quite some time.
Even so, North Scott found enough to survive a two-hour spirited battle in a regional semifinal at The Pit, 25-21, 25-18, 20-25, 19-25, 16-14.
"I told them in the locker room I've never been more proud of a team in 13 years I've coached," Cewe said. "The heart, the fight, the effort was unbelievable on our part tonight.
"We've seen glimpses of it, but to be that consistent for that long, I was very, very happy."
Iowa recruit and Clinton 6-foot-5 junior Grace Tubbs, the team leader in kills and blocks, suffered a knee injury Sunday. After having an MRI on Monday, doctors advised her to rest for three weeks.
So with no Tubbs, Clinton (19-13) had to adjust on the fly. It also required North Scott (23-8) to adapt after preparing for Tubbs in the lineup.
"It kind of threw a wrench not knowing at the last second," North Scott coach Allie Schwiebert admitted.
The fifth set was a back-and-forth tussle. Clinton jumped ahead 10-7. North Scott answered back with five straight.
The Lancers, in fact, had three match points at 14-11, but the River Queens dodged each one.
North Scott called a timeout at 14-all.
"Pretty much what was said, 'This is The Pit, this is our house and we need to protect it,'" Schwiebert said. "We just had to remind them to breathe a little bit and take it one ball at a time."
A Clinton service error and attack miscue ended the match.
North Scott's bench raced onto the court in celebration.
"We just wanted it so much," libero Kendal Newman said after a 25-dig performance. "We didn't want to be done, and we were going to do everything we could to prevent that from happening."
The Lancers have had some lean years recently, winning a collective 11 matches in the past three seasons. They'll play for a trip to the state tournament Monday night against second-ranked Dubuque Wahlert in Dubuque.
"This means a lot for us considering all of us have been together for so long," setter Hannah Grimm said. "We've lost together and been through some tough times, but we're coming together as one. It feels really nice."
Grimm distributed 47 assists. The Lancers had five players between nine and 14 kills, led by Alexis Hayes. Kendall McNaull was strong at the net with a match-high six blocks, and Hayes had a team-high 27 digs.
The Lancers used a 6-0 run deep into the first set to win it. They used a 10-1 surge, powered by Powell, to take the second set.
A sweep seemed imminent, particularly after North Scott soared to a 5-0 lead in the third.
Clinton stormed back with seven straight. It cleaned up its passing and the defense was digging about every North Scott attack.
"I think we kind of thought we had it in the bag and they came back very, very strong," Powell said.
Samantha Matheny led the River Queens with 18 kills and Brooke Mulholland collected 35 assists.
"I thought if we can just get one set, that could get us over the hump and give us some momentum," Cewe said. "You look at the kids' faces, and the determination and fight, that was something I haven't seen in a long while."
Now, North Scott hopes its turnaround season can extend beyond next week.
"It is really cool to be part of the group that is changing our program," Newman said. "We're excited for the future."