Redhawks smash records on way to state
TRAER — Tripoli’s 18 trips to the Class 1A state volleyball tournament have all arrived in the last 20 years.
Janesville and Holy Trinity Catholic are in the field for the eighth year in a row. Le Mars Gehlen Catholic has qualified for the season-ending event in Cedar Rapids now eight times in the last nine years.
Springville is back at the U.S. Cellular Center for the third time in four seasons, and Starmont has made it two-straight.
None of them have what first-time qualifier North Tama has.
The eighth-ranked Redhawks boast the best one-two punch in the bracket, bringing in their arsenal the top combination of attackers in 1A. Sophomore right-side hitter Katie Kopriva and junior outside hitter Karly Jans comprise the most prolific pair of hitters in the state. Kopriva ranks third in 1A with her school-record total of 452 kills and Jans stands 15th with 318 successful attempts, representing the highest two-player total in the class. None of the perennial state powers have a pair to match them.
“It puts a smile on my face, sometimes I smile during the match too,” said North Tama head coach Channing Halstead, referring to the rotation that brings Jans to the front row alongside Kopriva. “I feel like when I have my two best hitters up, I have my best server too. It’s then trying to find the happy medium, whether to start with that or rotate into that.
“It’s one of our better blocking rotations, too, so I really try to push in practice when we’re in that scenario that we need to make a run.”
The strategy was forced into action when the Redhawks (29-7) finished off their improbable come-from-behind rally to beat No. 11 Montezuma in the regional semifinals Nov. 26 in Traer. North Tama, which dropped the first two sets, won the last three and capped off the triumph by design. Tied at 12-apiece, North Tama scored a side-out to take a one-point lead, bringing Jans to the front row before Montezuma fired back. Jans regained the advantage with a kill, and Kopriva went back and served an ace to win the match, 23-25, 19-25, 25-17, 25-5, 15-13.
“I think everyone just feels more confident and we’re ready to go right away,” Jans said of the team’s prime rotation. “I’d say it’s really intimidating just from hearing what our defense says when they dig our hits.”
Brimming with momentum, the Redhawks rode into their first-ever regional final and walloped Coon Rapids-Bayard, 25-10, 25-18, 25-18, to clinch the program’s first state tournament berth.
In three postseason victories, Kopriva and Jans each recorded 50 kills to help propel the team to previously unseen heights.
“We want to make the blocker run from pin-to-pin because we have good enough hitters [on the outside] that if we can push you pin-to-pin we can find a seam and score,” said Halstead. “That’s really important and not just with Karly and Katie, it’s important for all our hitters.”
“They force your middles to make a choice,” Coon Rapids-Bayard coach Rich Baker said of North Tama’s touted outside hitters. “They’re impressive.”
Kopriva has exceeded the previous school record for kills by 175 going into the state tournament. Allison Zobel’s 2012 mark of 277 got passed up by Kopriva, a left-hander, 22 matches into this season, and Jans climbed past that total during regionals.
“Before the season I set a goal to have more kills than I had last year and so far I’ve already doubled that, so I achieved that,” Kopriva said. “That’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
Hers is one of a number of records this Redhawk contingent has smashed this season. North Tama’s 29 wins and 36 matches played both are new marks for the program. Powered by Kopriva and Jans, the team’s kill efficiency also has reached a new high of .273, breezing by the .242 mark made in 2012.
At the center of the Redhawks’ attack has been sophomore setter Isabel Sierra, whose own numbers have soared thanks to the two-pronged attack on the outside and just enough complementary hitters to keep opposing teams honest. Freshman outside hitter Abby Deboef has contributed 87 kills and senior middle Lydia Schafer adds 79 kills, while sophomore middle Carlie Gorder has contributed 30 kills.
Sierra now owns the school record for assists in a match (48) and a season (798), and her assists per set (8.31) is tops as well. The team’a assists total of 1,120 is light years ahead of the 2003 mark of 745.
“I guess I just go with the flow where the ball is and decide where to set it from there,” said Sierra. “I like [having Jans and Kopriva to choose from] because if the ball is passed in a not-so-good place I have two options, and I know that I can trust them to put it down.”
And for all the offensive numbers that get the attention, North Tama has trusted its defense to a sophomore libero among others to get the job done in the back row. Takoa Kopriva, Katie’s cousin, has already established a new school record by breaking the standard she set a year ago. Takoa ranks seventh in 1A with 457 digs, surpassing the 288 she totaled last fall. She racked up a record 29 digs against Montezuma to break her own match record, and the team’s 1,310 total left the 2013 number (894) in its wake.
Katie has contributed 220 digs playing the full rotation, while junior Carissa Calderwood (154), Sierra (151) and sophomore Katelyn Kucera (114) have made defense a team effort.
“We’ve been working hard and it really shows,” Kucera said. “You never go through the motions, you just put in 100 percent every day and play your game.”
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Janesville (34-7) vs. East Mills (24-8), 6 p.m.
Starmont (30-5) vs. Holy Trinity Catholic (37-5), 8 p.m.
Gehlen Catholic (27-5) vs. Tripoli (25-13), 6 p.m.
Springville (38-2) vs. North Tama (29-7), 8 p.m.