Redhawks ward off Rebels in 5

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - North Tama senior Karly Jans (7) celebrates the final point of the match as the Class 1A No. 6 Redhawks defeated No. 11 Gladbrook-Reinbeck in five sets on Thursday night in Reinbeck.

REINBECK — They’ve faced off before and the potential exists for them to square again, but the North Tama and Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball teams got plenty familiar on Thursday night.

The sixth-ranked Redhawks and 11th-rated Rebels played to five sets in their third meeting of the season, with North Tama notching the 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 22-25, 15-10 victory.

The two ranked clubs could meet for a fourth time if the Class 1A Region 3 bracket works out that way, but both got all they could handle from the other in the regular-season finale.

North Tama outside hitters Karly Jans and Katie Kopriva racked up 16 and 15 kills, respectively, to help power the Redhawks (25-8) to their third win in as many meetings with G-R (23-7) this fall.

Neither team scored more than five points consecutive, but North Tama’s 5-0 lead to open the deciding fifth set was the largest rally of the match. Grace Thorsen served up a pair of aces to propel the Redhawks to the lead that eventually got them over the top against their neighbors and non-conference rivals.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE - North Tama junior Carly Gorder (5) hits around the outstretched block of Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s Saari Kuehl (4) during Thursday’s non-conference volleyball match in Reinbeck.

“It’s hard coming off playing a team three times, and probably a fourth time,” said North Tama head coach Channing Halstead. “They know what we do and we know what they do. [Gladbrook-Reinbeck] did do a very good job of digging the ball, and we didn’t handle it as well.”

Neither team served particularly well, either, which made for a back-and-forth affair from the start. North Tama finished with 15 service errors and the Rebels totaled 14 misses, hampering either team’s attempt to gain a serious helping of momentum.

In the end, it was good, old-fashioned defense that made this a five-set thriller by the time it was done.

“I thought we did really well on our side of the net,” said G-R head coach Paula Kelley. “We did some different defensive schemes because we knew what North Tama likes to hit — we only had one day working on it — but I thought we did a phenominal job of picking it up.”

Rebel sophomore Saari Kuehl came away with a match-high 23 kills, but G-R’s struggles to set themselves up with a good pass hampered the team’s offensive flow. North Tama suffered a similar fate since not everything hit back at the Redhawks was a hard attack, and they struggled to stay in system because of it.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

But when the scoreboard switched over to the fifth set, North Tama’s state tournament savvy shined through. The moment became a little too big for Gladbrook-Reinbeck all of the sudden, and Thorsen’s serving paved the way for a 5-0 surge in the final set.

Katelyn Kucera carved up another ace, Jans had a pair of kills, junior setter Isabel Sierra selected the perfect moment for her first kill, and Abby DeBoef bounced an attack off the taut net and over the G-R blockers for a kill.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck accounted for only two of its 10 points in the final set, as Kuehl and Meriah Wittgreve had kills, but the Rebels made too many errors to atone for against North Tama.

“I thought Karly Jans came through for us, she played with tons of energy and it was good to see her step up,” said Halstead.

Jans finished with 19 digs, trailing only libero Takoa Kopriva’s 29, for the Redhawk defense. Katie Kopriva added 11 digs and two aces, while Kucera and Thorsen added two aces apiece. DeBoef finished with eight kills, Carlie Gorder had four kills, and Sierra finished with 31 assists.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

The Redhawks have one last date on their schedule with Saturday’s Iowa Star Conference Tournament at Meskwaki Settlement School, and a first-round bye welcomes North Tama into regional play. The team’s playoff opener is Oct. 22 in Traer against either Baxter or Meskwaki, and the potential rematch with Gladbrook-Reinbeck would be Oct. 25 in the regional semifinals.

“Scoring those first five points of the fifth set was huge, that gave us momentum right away,” said Halstead. “We’ve got to take this momentum from tonight and go into the conference tournament, because that could have state implications. We’ve got to make sure we’re playing well, and it’s a confidence booster too.”

Haleigh Berendes chipped in seven kills behind Kuehl’s 23 for G-R, while Wittgreve finished with six and Justina Eggers added another five. Madison Denny-Weber tallied 36 assists. Alyssa Morgan led the Rebels with 16 digs, Kuehl had 13 and Rachel Cooley added 11. Wittgreve and Berendes tallied three aces as well for Gladbrook-Reinbeck, which won’t lament a third loss to North Tama with another potential meeting on the horizon.

“I think it got to them a little bit,” Kelley said of the nailbiting fifth set, “they felt some pressure. We’ve struggled in those situations this year. It was an exciting match, two 1A ranked teams, and this is what it should have looked like.

“Once we get over that last little hump of beating those teams that are above us … we can get to that top notch.”

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

The Rebels open regional play with a home match against GMG next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Reinbeck, and the winner will meet either Colo-NESCO or Collins-Maxwell in Reinbeck on Oct. 22. North Tama hosts the regional semifinal, and the regional final is Oct. 30 in Boone.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE