Bobcat rally quieted by Rams
No. 11 Southeast Polk escapes Roundhouse with five-set win over MHS
Upset alarms were ringing throughout the gym in the Roundhouse late into the CIML Iowa Conference match between Marshalltown and Class 4A No. 11 Southeast Polk.
After splitting the first four sets of the night, the Bobcats and Rams were locked in a winner-take-all fifth set, and Marshalltown had the momentum.
MHS jumped out to an early 6-3 lead, then eventually extended that to an 11-6 lead, but Southeast Polk dug deep and rallied back to win the final set and take the five-set victory, 19-25, 25-13, 25-17, 13-25, 17-15.
Marshalltown head coach Chris Brees said his girls nearly pulled off the storybook upset.
“There were two stories to what happened tonight,” Brees said. “There’s the story of game one, there’s the story of game four, then there’s an almost happy ending in game five. I think we learned that we can’t ebb and flow so much, that’s the only takeaway I want from them.”
The Bobcats (4-8, 0-1) came out breathing fire against the Rams (11-5, 1-0) in the first set to win, 25-19. Southeast Polk couldn’t find its rhythm serving, leading to six missed serves in the first set alone, while Marshalltown played a solid all-around game.
The Rams went to work in set two, however, starting off with 10-straight points and dominating the Bobcats in nearly every aspect on the way to a 25-13 win. It seemed that would be the same story in set three, with Southeast Polk jumping out to a 10-1 lead early on and holding a 24-12 advantage late, but MHS fought back to win five-straight points before eventually dropping the third, 25-17.
“We built some momentum at the end of game three, then we came out in game four and had the serve and we got a quick two points,” Brees said. “I think if we serve well and get those quick points, that gives us our confidence. And we got a rotation that we liked in game four with Erica starting and Autumn Finch was on a smaller middle blocker. That’s the matchup I was hoping we would get, and we used that to our advantage.”
The Bobcats went out into the tunnel of the Roundhouse before the start of set four to have a quick meeting, and junior Erica Johnson said they just reminded each other that they had already beaten the Rams once that night.
“We beat them in the first set and we could do it,” Johnson, who led the team with nine kills, said. “We had the potential and I think it was right there, we all just came together and we found the energy to bring us back, and that really helped.”
All of that momentum came together for a huge showing in the fourth set, as MHS rolled over Southeast Polk, 25-13, to force a fifth and final set.
“We were just listening to each other more,” Johnson said of the difference in that set. “We were trying to do our own thing and then people were saying ‘go to the middle of the court,’ or ‘go to the swing line,’ and that really helped open things up. Brees was helping us do that too obviously from point one but we weren’t executing it at first.”
“I am proud of how we responded,” Brees said. “We took them into the tunnel and talked about ‘what do you want?’ and ‘don’t play scared, don’t play passive, hit to win,’ and we started doing that.”
Johnson was the offensive leader and she finished second on the team in digs with 15, while libero Alyvia Chadderdon led in that aspect with 20. Freshmen Hayden Oetker and Autumn finch were next in kills with six and four respectively, while Madi Finch had 22 assists.
Two girls were in double figure kills for the Rams, with Abbie Johnson finishing at 13 kills and Myah Shipley recording 11.
Southeast Polk head coach Matt Parker said his girls were lucky to sneak out of the Roundhouse with a victory.
“We talk about riding the wave, sometimes a team comes out with a lot of momentum and a lot of energy and Marshalltown came back strong,” Parker said. “They started game one with a lot of energy, then came back in game four and just were on fire. You kind of hope a team comes down from that high and you just ride it out, but we never could get in system and clicking in game four. Start of game five we were not clicking also, but we kind of kept our head down and plowing along, then eventually you ride the crest and get back into it.”
As a team, the Bobcats were 94-98 serving with five aces, while Johnson, Chadderdon, Madi Finch, Grace Fisher and Mayah Carson were all perfect in service.
“We finally got better tonight at hitting our zones,” Brees said. “Taking them out of system, knowing who was going to get the ball on the hit and what was the hardest position for her to hit from. That was something we’ve worked on, when we hit our zones we are good, but when we are serving to that libero we are not good. Tonight we missed a few but we were at least making that libero move side-to-side, and that helped us.”
Another area that Marshalltown has shown tremendous improvement was at the net, as it finished with 10 total blocks, led by Autumn Finch with four.
“We haven’t had a consistent block in two years and we are getting those out of young people,” Brees said. “That adds a dynamic that hopefully translates to getting more digs. I thought we dug well, we have to learn to cover that tip better though, but our blocking is something that hopefully helps us play better defense too.”
In the last four matches the Bobcats are 3-4 after starting the season at 1-4, and with a strong match like tonight Johnson said she and the rest of the team are feeling more confident.
“I think we have grown a lot and we all have gotten closer to each other in practice, knowing where to go and where people will be on plays, so that’s really helped,” she said. “Especially just knowing where to put the ball, we are getting better at that, and listening to what coach Brees has to say.”
Given how young this team is, with three freshmen and a sophomore playing regular rotation minutes, Brees said he knew this was going to be a process this season, and it is starting to come along.
“I go to these quarterback club things, all these meetings with people, and I feel like they want me to panic, but I’m not panicking,” he said. “We are very young, we have to learn my system, they have to learn my personality, and we are playing in the CIML Conference. This is what it’s going to be like every night.”
Marshalltown will look to continue its growth on Thursday when it hosts Ottumwa for a match at the Roundhouse, starting at 7:30 p.m.