Iakopo off-script ace sends American River to state women's volleyball final

Shanaley Iakopo made the big plays to help American River advance to Sunday's state championship final (photo by Jon Marley).
Shanaley Iakopo made the big plays to help American River advance to Sunday's state championship final (photo by Jon Marley).

Updated Records: San Joaquin Delta (26-4), American River (25-4)
Delta is eliminated and finishes in a tie for 3rd place at state
Championship Final, 2 p.m.--N3 American River v. N2 Feather River

(FRESNO) -- Shanaley Iakopo had made big kills throughout the CCCAA State Women's Volleyball Championship Semifinal on Saturday, but what she did on match point was a bit of a shock to American River College head coach Carson Lowden. 

"We usually call out our serves, but Shanaley went executive decision on us and served it short," Lowden said as Iakopo delivered the knockout blow with an ace that floated ever so barely over the net and landed just past the front row giving North #3-seed ARC an incredible 5-set victory over North #1 San Joaquin Delta, 25-12, 25-15, 22-25, 24-26, 16-14. 

American River will now play N2-Feather River in the championship final on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Beavers just happened to have handed Feather River its only loss (five sets) to open the 2022 season.

"We talked about the possibility of facing Feather River in the finals and how it fitting it would be to start the season against them only to play them at state to finish the season. And what a big matchup this will be," Lowden said.

The Beavers won for the second time in four meetings v. Delta in another chapter of the rivalry between the two Big 8 Conference powers. Delta had won the Big 8 title but had a perfect conference season spoiled by ARC in the regular season finale. 

In the fifth set, American led 6-2 and then 13-8 on a block by Awelina Fakalata and Sadie White. But the Mustangs, who came up with a giant rally in the fourth set, roared back with two kills by Kiyah Irby and an ace from Savannah LeBarre.

Iakopo landed a kill to send it to match point at 14-12, but Delta fought back and tied it at 14-14 on another kill by Irby from a set by LeBarre. Fakalata rifled her match-high 22nd kill for sideout before Iakopo made her heroic, yet rogue play to win it for ARC.

For the Beavers, Iakopo scored 13 kills and made just one error to hit .462 plus 10 digs and six set assists. Kylie Matthews added 12 kills and 21 digs, Fakalata tallied 15 digs, and White had 10 kills and four blocks. 

"When we fell behind 2-0, we knew we had to serve-receive better," said LeBarre, who had a phenomenal match with 20 digs to go with 17 kills, two blocks and two aces. "We had a close team with good chemistry and part of it was that we wanted to do things together outside of volleyball. It's why were able to make it to state. Coach Hummel is a role model for me."

Also for Delta, Irby played despite an injury suffered in the warmups and posted 21 kills with 10 digs while Ellie Crowell totaled 36 set assists, 11 digs, two kills and two blocks. Mustangs head coach Molly Hummel said her team was affected by what was going on with Irby in the pre-game. 

"We have such a close-knit group that cares so much about each other," she said. "So there was a point when Kiyah was getting help from our trainer and had to leave the pre-game. Everyone was concerned about her and I think it got us out of sorts early in the match. But it's that same type of caring that also brought us back into the match because they knew we had come so far to reach state and didn't want it to end.

"American River played perfect volleyball for the first two sets and it put us into chase mode. Once we got to the fifth set, it's a toss-up at that point as to which way the match would go."

Lowden said, "We played such good volleyball in the first two sets and then I think we had this oh my god moment where we realized how close we were to getting to making it to the finals. Delta's defense got going and we didn't do as good a job of getting our hitters into the right areas. Shanaley just came up big-time for us at every key moment. I have so much respect for Molly and Delta's coaching staff, and it was just a great match to take part in."

In winning the first two sets, American River dominated, hitting .308 with 31 digs, five aces and no service errors. Delta struggled offensively with a uncharacteristic minus (16 errors, 14 kills). In the third set, the teams traded points throughout as it was tied at 22-22. Irby slammed two straight kills, one an overpass, before Miekayla Surnip floored an ace for a 3-point set #3 victory.

In the fourth set, Delta led 19-11 before ARC made a monumental comeback of its own in tying it at 22-22 on an Iakopo kill down the line. Irby scored a kill to send it to set point at 24-23, but Iakopo came back with a point to send it to extras. A Beavers attack error and Irby's kill gave the Mustangs the set, forcing the fifth.

Release by Robert Lewis, CCCWVCA/CCCAA Championship SID