Given it graduated three of its top four offensive options, a repeat trip to the state tournament seemed far-fetched for Pleasant Valley's volleyball team in August.
"Starting off, I didn't think we were going to be that good," senior outside hitter Sydney Strawser admitted.
The maturation of PV's newcomers, coupled with a rock-solid back row and setter Allie Carter, has the Spartans on the cusp of another appearance in Cedar Rapids.
Strawser recorded 15 kills and Emma Whigham chipped in 10 as fifth-ranked PV ousted Cedar Rapids Washington 25-17, 25-16, 25-11 in a Class 5A regional semifinal Thursday night at PV High School.
The Spartans (27-6) meet unranked Cedar Rapids Jefferson (19-21) for a spot in the state tournament Tuesday night at Davenport Central. Behind 44 kills from sophomore Amanda Ollinger, the J-Hawks upset Iowa City West in five sets.
"We came out with a bunch of energy, we were pumped before the game," said PV libero Morgan Waterman, who registered 15 digs. "Last year as juniors experiencing that state tournament, we really want to do that again."
PV was topsy-turvy early in the season.
"Our biggest thing all season has been trying to get to the point where we're consistent within a set and consistent within a match," coach Stacey Ruff said. "When you have young players, sometimes that takes a while to develop.
"Since the Clinton (five-set) loss and Johnston tournament (5-1 on Oct. 19), we've been playing at a much more consistent level."
Strawser and Whigham have anchored the outside, while middles Emily Paul and Kelli DeGeorge have become more integral in the offense.
"We're starting to hit our peak," Strawser said.
Washington (16-20) didn't have an answer.
Despite taking the Spartans to five sets in last year's regional final, the Warriors were out of sorts most of the match. PV had substantial runs in each set - 8-2, 7-0 and 9-2.
"We really struggled passing tonight," Washington coach Amy Faulkner said. "Coming off a long bus ride, you've got to come out ready to go, and we came out a little flat and they took advantage.
"I really thought we were going to have a lot more competitive sets."