CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Tipton volleyball coach Amy Calonder could sense her team was approaching a do-or-die moment.
After dropping the second set of Wednesday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal to 13th-ranked New Hampton, the Tigers found themselves trailing by six in the late stages of the third set at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Despite all of that, there was no panic in the second-ranked Tigers.
“One thing I said when I came back to the huddle was, 'This is easy work,’” Tipton junior Sommer Daniel said. “We have played games where we’ve had to come back from a lot bigger spread than that. It’s all mental, and last year we probably wouldn’t have gotten there.”
This year, though, has been a different story.
Tipton rattled off nine of the last 10 points to win the third set and went on to win the match in four sets over New Hampton, 25-22, 17-25, 25-23, 25-19 to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
The Tigers play sixth-seeded Mount Vernon at 2 p.m. Thursday.
“The one thing I was excited about was to hear (the announcement), 'Tipton Tigers, your team will be playing in the semifinals,’” Calonder said. “We don’t want to settle for the semis, either. We want to keep on rolling.”
Early on, it appeared Wednesday’s match may turn into a routine victory for Tipton (37-3) after it won the opening set.
Daniel, a Utah recruit, had seven of her match-high 24 kills in the set.
However, New Hampton (36-6) found its footing on defense and cruised by Tipton in set two.
“We watched a clip from their regional finals, and it was impressive,” Daniel said. “But it was a lot more (today) than we had seen in the video.”
“They were so scrappy,” Calonder added of New Hampton. “They were picking up balls everywhere, and it was like, 'Oh my goodness, find the floor somewhere.’”
It showed in Tipton’s kill efficiency, too, as the .135 mark was “lower than it’s ever been,” according to Calonder. That carried over to the third set, too, as the Chickasaws led for most of the set and threatened to take a 2-1 lead in the match by extending their advantage to 22-16.
“We called a timeout, and I don’t remember what was said, but it was something like, 'Yeah, we’re not losing this one,’” Tipton senior Jamie Kofron said.
Kofron had 10 kills, five digs and two blocks in the match.
“We just kind of turned a switch and that lit a fire inside of us.”
Or, as Calonder put it, the Tigers quit thinking so much and just started playing. Their serve receive improved, their defense locked in and they showed their mental toughness in a 9-1 run that clinched the set and perhaps saved their season.
“That was outstanding,” Calonder said. “To come back from six down out here was pretty incredible.”
The Tigers’ dynamic front line took over from there.
In fact, they entered what Kofron calls “the danger zone,” which she said is when everybody is feeling it. Tipton found its rhythm in all facets of the game and never trailed in the fourth set. Amanda Smith finished with 29 assists, and Sommer and Blake Ehler added 18 digs for the Tigers.
“It’s great,” Kofron said of advancing. “It’s another box to check off. I think we’re all just excited to get playing again (Thursday)."