MURRAY — Maybe they were just too hungry to make it happen.
Whatever the case, it took a set for Murray to relax and play its game in Class 1A regional semifinal action here Friday. A crowd of nearly 440 jammed the Jerry Brown Gymnasium for the battle of neighboring rivals, and created a roar with nearly every point.
In the end, Murray settled in to a 17-25, 25-15, 25-19, 25-14 victory over East Union to end a couple of streaks.
The Eagles had knocked out Murray in postseason play the past two seasons on the way to eight straight appearances in regional finals. That streak included state tournament appearances in 2010 and 2011.
Now, it's the Lady Mustangs (27-3) headed to a regional final Wednesday at Creston High School in a 7 p.m. match with Stanton (36-5) for a trip to state in Cedar Rapids. It would be Murray's first appearance in the state volleyball tournament.
The atmosphere of Friday's match, and the high stakes, appeared to give error-prone Murray a case of the jitters in the opening set. Several Mustang hitting errors contributed to the team's early deficit. East Union took an 11-7 lead to 16-8 and carried that momentum to the 25-17 finish.
McKayle Dudney, one of several sophomores in the Eagles' main rotation, served the final three points.
"The girls came out on fire, attacking the ball," said East Union coach Gail Thatcher. "We really had the momentum. Then Murray came back. They have a solid lineup. (Kate) Patton and (Hannah) Barber work well together setting up the attack."
From coach Jerry Shields' vantage point, that cohesion was missing in the early going. But it was like a light switch came on when the teams exchanged sides of the court for set two.
"We were just tight," Shields said. "I told them we'd been relaxed all year long, but tonight we came out tight. That was a big crowd for us. I told them it's going to be really noisy in here tonight. Our passing was bad. Our setter was coming clear back to the second row all the time to try to make a set. That's nearly impossible."
Barber, who finished with 14 kills and two blocks, agreed that her team took some time to find its rhythm.
"All of us were kind of having game jitters," Barber said. "East Union had beaten us twice in a row. There was a lot of pressure to beat them this year, and we just weren't loosened up."
Barber said the team caught fire when serve receivers McKenzie Case and Megan Oswald started accurately sending balls to Patton in position for some of her 32 assists. That enabled hitters like Barber, Oswald (eight kills), and Cheyanne Ashby (five kills) to start pounding balls into the Eagles' court.
Then, it was a reversed trend of East Union errors in trying to transition into its offense.
"They have a lot of size, and this is a tough venue to play in," Thatcher said. "The experience our girls gained from playing these last three matches is really going to take us into next year for a positive. But, it's going to be difficult to fill in for our two seniors."
Libero Brittany Malone shouldered the bulk of East Union's serve receive Friday (36-42) and notched a team-high 26 digs. She ranks sixth in Class 1A with 438 digs this season. Kelsey Hoff had 192 kills this year, including five in an 18-of-27 hitting night Friday. She also had two blocks.
Thatcher, whose team faced Stanton in a regular-season tournament, forsees a competitive match between the Viqueens and Lady Mustangs Wednesday night.
Barber, part of a balanced Murray attack at the net, knows there's a special player to be neutralized if her team is going to be successful in earning a state trip.
"We have to block number 13," she said. "We played against them in the SWCC tournament in the off-season. If we can put her down, we can probably beat them. Our seniors have really taken a stand this year to get us there."
Number 13 is Carmen Subbert, a 5-7 leaper whose two older sisters were collegiate volleyball players. She figures to make it a trifecta next year.
"She's only 5-7, but she can hit with the best of them," Shields said. "We have to be able to block Subbert. She hits out of the outside and the back row, mostly. She can cut the ball really well, drive it to the corners. About 85 percent of their game goes through her."
After the first set, Shields thought his team was performing at a high level Friday in preparation for that challenge.
"It was a hard-fought match in front of a great crowd," Shields said. "We got settled down in games two and three. We were very balanced at the net offensively."
Of the team's 37 kills, five players had at least four of them, led by Barber's 14. The team missed only six of 90 serves, with seven aces. Patton missed only one of 22 attempts and accumulated four aces.
Serving (aces) — Kate Patton 21-22 (4), Hannah Barber 16-18 (2), Chellsea Jones 14-14, Megan Oswald 13-13, team 84-90 (7).
Attacks (kills) — Barber 40-52 (14), Oswald 24-27 (8), Cheyanne Ashby 14-15 (5), Madison Gonseth 15-21 (4), Jade Lecy 8-10 (4), team 113-138 (37).
Blocks — Oswald 5, Gonseth 3, Barber 2, Ashby 2, Patton 2, team 15.
Setting (assists) — Patton 114-117 (32), team 126-130 (33).
Digs — Oswald 17, McKenzie Case 13, team 78-100.
Serve receive — Case 18-18, Barber 13-14, Oswald 12-16, Jones 8-9, team 58-66.
East Union statistics
Serving (aces) — Kali Mertens 16-17 (3), Courtney Phelps 17-18 (3), Kelsey Hoff 7-7, Brittany Malone 12-15 (1), McKayle Dudney 10-10.
Attacks (kills) — Mertens 26-28 (5), Dudney 22-29 (5), Chay Blondowski 21-26 (5), Hoff 18-27 (5), Katlin Weinkoetz 12-14 (5), Malone 4-4 (1), Emily Eckels 4-4 (1).
Blocks (solo-assists) — Hoff 1-1, Dudney 0-1.
Setting (assists) — Phelps 22, Weinkoetz 2, Dudney 2.
Digs — Malone 26, Phelps 14, Alyssa Proffitt 13, Mertens 10, Blondowski 6.
Serve receive — Malone 36-42, Mertens 12-17, Eckels 8-9, Proffitt 5-6.