There were plenty of moments where the Marshalltown Community College volleyball team played right with NJCAA Division II No. 7 Kirkwood Community College.
It's the other moments where the Eagles controlled play at the net and rolled off several points in a row that Tiger coach Chris Brees wants his squad to clean up.
And while the end result was a three-game loss, Brees was not unhappy with the effort during Kirkwood's 25-20, 25-15, 25-18 victory in Iowa Community College Athletic Conference play at the Student Activity Center on Tuesday.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown freshman setter Sam Hinrichs had a team-high 17 assists and seven kills for the Tigers on Tuesday, but the NJCAA Division II No. 7 Kirkwood Eagles won the match in three games at the Student Activity Center.
"We showed flashes that we can play with them," Brees said. "We just have to sustain it better. We played better tonight than we did against DMACC, and I feel like Kirkwood is better than DMACC. It was night and day from the DMACC match."
The Eagles have two of the top five hitters on the Division II side of the ICCAC and their talents were on display in front of a small crowd at the SAC.
Heather Poula entered with 215 kills on the season. She finished with nine kills, an ace and a handful of blocks at the net against the Tigers.
Poula as well as teammates Chelsea Gryp, Alicen Wintermole and Erin Walker were a big reason why the Tiger hitters struggled to put away side-out balls. And that may have been the most frustrating part of the loss for Brees.
"They were good with their short serves and those were throwing us off a bit, but we have got to have someone put away a side-out ball," Brees said. "We'll focus on that the rest of the week.
"They were good but we gave them too many easy points and then we had to fight back from those. We blocked well tonight and served pretty darn aggressive. We just didn't get a consistent effort from our hitting."
The Eagles weren't in trouble in any of the three games Tuesday. MCC jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the opener thanks to back-to-back points from freshman hitter Meghann Cole. Katelyn Yauslin's kill made it 4-3, but the Tigers never led the rest of the way.
Kirkwood (18-4, 5-0) scored four straight points to push its 12-11 lead into 16-11. Then back-to-back kills by Poula made it 18-12, and the Eagles held off a late rally from MCC to grab an early advantage.
The momentum carried over into game two for the Eagles. MCC (10-12, 1-3) never led and got down by as many 11 in the loss. Payton Hilton did most of the damage early for Kirkwood and the Tigers couldn't sustain any kind of run to get back into the frame.
The Eagles never went on a long run but three points here and four straight points there made it tough for MCC to close the gap.
"We've got to mentally think we can do it," Brees said. "We can't go into games against Kirkwood and DMACC and already feel like we are going to lose. It doesn't happen with just us. Other schools in the conference do the same thing. We can't have a glaze over our face."
MCC dropped the first five points in the final frame before rallying to take the lead at 6-5. It was only the second time the Tigers led in the match but 8-7 was the last advantage they would see the rest of the way.
With the game tied at 9-all, Kirkwood rolled off three straight to force an MCC timeout. The Tigers got back to within 17-16 on a kill by Yauslin, but Kirkwood then pulled away with seven straight points on Poula's serve.
Poula, who had two kills and an ace during the run, served all the way up to game point, and the Tigers handed the victory to the visitors following a net violation.
Freshman setter Sam Hinrichs has been more involved up front the past few matches. She once again led the Tigers in assists with 17, but the Ankeny native also had a team-high seven kills and finished with two blocks in the loss.
"We are trying to work in a 6-2 to give our opponents another look," Brees said. "Sam is a hitter on her club team so we know she can do that. We wanted to get more dumps out of her in that third game, but it just wasn't happening. We will continue to work on the 6-2 though because there are some opportunities there."
The Tigers have not beaten Kirkwood since defeating the Eagles in a playoff match two games to none in 2007.
Brees understands the separation between the two programs and hopes to close the gap in the coming years but admits it won't be easy.
"They have tradition and they have Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in their backyard," Brees said. "They have kids that go to school there just to go to school there. They also have kids knocking on their door wanting to try out for the team. I have to do the knocking a lot of times here.
"We just need to keep doing what we are doing. We went and got kids that we felt are stronger than we've had here in past seasons. Hopefully, it gets even better next year. I said we would be different this year. I think we are, but next year has to be a year that shows we are making the turn."
Sophomore libero Ashley Salgado had a team-high 13 digs and was 8-of-9 in serves with one ace. Hinrichs was 15-for-15 from behind the service line.
Freshman hitter Meghann Cole and sophomore hitter Amanda Keane had six and five kills, respectively, while Reeba Box and Yauslin each had three blocks. Alyssa Whitmore finished with six digs, Emily Anker added four assists and Cole and Miranda Smith each had two blocks for the Tigers.
The Tigers will have one practice day before heading to Mason City on Thursday to take on North Iowa Area Community College (11-10, 1-4) in an ICCAC contest at 7 p.m. The Tigers next play at home a week from today when ICCAC rival Iowa Central (11-9, 3-1) visits the Student Activity Center. ... BCLUW graduate Brittany Ambler played for Kirkwood the past two seasons and is now on staff with her former coach Jill Williams. ... Poula's 215 kills coming into the match was third in ICCAC Division II play, while Walker's 191 ranked fourth. ... Salgado continues to lead all NJCAA Division II players in digs with 597. ... In her first action as a 6-2 setter this weekend, Hinrichs led the Tigers with career-highs of 11 kills, 13 digs and five blocks in the upset win over NJCAA Division III No. 6 Harper.