Springville stonewalls North Tama in Redhawks’ state tourney debut
CEDAR RAPIDS — The nightcap of the second day of action at the Iowa Girls’ High School State Volleyball Tournament ended up being pushed back even further due to a five-set thriller between Tripoli and Le Mars Gehlen Catholic, but eventually that match ended and the Class 1A No. 8 North Tama volleyball team was able to take the court for the first time ever at the U.S. Cellular Center.
In the way of the Redhawks earning their first win at state was perennial state powerhouse Springville, and though the Orioles won the match in three sets, 25-15, 25-21, 25-21, North Tama proved on Wednesday night that they deserved to be in the state tournament.
Redhawks head coach Channing Halstead said her girls gained some valuable experience in the loss, but don’t think they are satisfied with their first-round exit.
“We will be eager for more, we don’t like to lose and with everyone coming back pretty much and getting this experience, we have high expectations for ourselves and we like the challenge to step up to those,” she said after the season-ending loss. “Hopefully we showed people we belong here. It was a good first game to get under our belt but we will be eager to be back for more.”
North Tama started the match off slow, either due to the delayed start or to the lack of experience playing on such a large stage, but once they settled in during the final two sets, it was all Springville could do to hold on to whatever lead they could muster.
In both of the final two sets, the Orioles would build a decent lead, only for the Redhawks to knock that lead down and cause both the Springville players on the court and fans in the stands sweat the outcome.
North Tama senior Lydia Schafer, one of only two seniors on this year’s team, said all season the Redhawks have fought back from adversity, but this time the size of the stage might have had something to do with them coming up short.
“From the beginning we learned to fight back, no matter how bad it is we fight back,” Schafer said. “I think this was different because of the whole setting, it was such a big arena with such big crowds on both sides, it’s just a different atmosphere than we are used to ever before. I think that kind of messed with our heads a bit but I think these girls will be back next year and better than ever.”
Where North Tama hadn’t been to state prior to this season, Springville has appeared in four of the last five years. Where the Redhawks have only two seniors on the team, the Orioles were both senior-heavy and junior-heavy. Springville head coach Claude Howard said that wealth of experience his girls had to draw from was a difference in the matchup.
“These kids are very calm, if you look out there you don’t see them get rattled at all. I probably have the most emotion with dropping my head and everything,” Howard said. “Those kids really work hard and they understand, they’ve been down before and that experience does help. We had five seniors playing and five juniors playing so that’s not new to them and the pressure’s not new to them either.”
Though the Orioles were bigger and more experienced, it was actually the Redhawks who took away the lead in many statistical categories. Sophomore Katie Kopriva had a game-high 12 kills, while her cousin Takoa Kopriva led both teams in digs with 23.
Takoa has been great all season on defense, and she said her approach to digging the big hitters from Springville was to watch their body, not the ball.
“I just watch their approach, try to face their shoulders and at least get a touch on it,” she said.
Defense is actually where North Tama generally excels at, Halstead said, and when they finally got comfortable on Wednesday night on the defensive end there was a clear change in the team’s ability to attack the Orioles.
“We like to play defense, and when our defense clicks we kind of feed off that energy. That gets Katie going, that gets (Karly) Jans going, we can turn defense into offense pretty well,” Halstead said. “We don’t give up and I think that we are, for the most part, a bunch of juniors and sophomores going out there and showing that we’ve got fight. I think that we are showing people that we deserve to be here and we aren’t going to let up going into next year.”
When the girls were down in the second and third sets, they easily could have given up and accepted defeat, but that’s just not in the nature of that Redhawks squad. Katie Kopriva said, until the bitter end, the team still believed it had a chance to make a final comeback push.
“We had to tell each other that there’s a reason why the matches are best of five, so you can come back from things like this,” she said.
While their comeback fell short on Wednesday, there will be plenty coming back next season for North Tama. Both Koprivas, Karly Jans, setter Isabel Sierra and many, many more girls will return to make sure that this first trip to state for the Redhawks won’t be the last.
“We are going to have higher expectations next year so we are going to have to work even harder than we did this past year,” Katie said.
Bringing back a defensive stalwart like Takoa and two offensive threats like Katie and Jans would be enough to make any coach salivate at the possibilities, but Halstead said it’s important to fill the leadership role that Schafer and Ubben will leave after this season.
“We have big shoes to fill from Lydia just in the leadership aspect, with such a young group our leadership was crucial from Lydia and Andrea,” she said. “But I think Jans and Carissa (Calderwood) and we have sophomores who can fill that, all five of our sophomores who play have been two year varsity players, so they are leaders too.”
Though they didn’t win in their first trip to Cedar Rapids, the Redhawks were successful in just qualifying for the tournament, and Schafer said no one can take that away from this team.
“It’s crazy knowing that my name will always be in the books as one of the two seniors on this team, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better team to go to state for the first time with because these are the best and most loving and talented group of girls I have ever had the privilege of being a team with,” she said.
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Janesville def. East Mills, 25-10, 25-12, 25-19
Holy Trinity Catholic def. Starmont, 25-17, 25-21, 25-17
Le Mars Gehlen Catholic def. Tripoli, 18-25, 25-27, 25-14, 25-12, 15-10
Springville def. North Tama, 25-15, 25-21, 25-21
Thursday, Nov. 9
Janesville (35-7) vs. Holy Trinity Catholic (38-5), 6 p.m.
Le Mars Gehlen Catholic (28-6) vs. Springville (39-2), 6 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 10
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.