North Tama culture trying to take next step
TRAER — North Tama volleyball culture is more than just a team searching for its first-ever state title in school history. Rather it’s a family and community that is hoping to add a legacy to its program.
While family is often a term that gets thrown around in sports loosely, for North Tama volleyball it reigns true. In fact, going to practice and seeing senior Carlie Gorder or any other player helping assistant coach Karisa Kladivo comfort her baby, Kody, at practice is not an unusual sight.
“We are all best friends and we always have been,” Gorder said. “I think that helps a lot when we are playing together. Our motto is ‘Make it Happen’ and so each of us has a role that we have to get done.
“It is [like a second family] we play together all the time because of AAU so it’s a year-round sport so were always together so it is pretty much like a second family for all of us. We all know how we play and we know how to keep each other up. We know everything about each other because we have been together for so long.”
North Tama’s team bond goes as far back as elementary school as most of the team has been coached by North Tama head coach Channing Halstead. In fact, the Redhawks’ six seniors have been coached by Halstead since fifth grade.
“All of these girls have played together in some aspect since they were in elementary school,” Halstead said. “We have that chemistry. In the winters we go out and play together as a team. It doesn’t matter if they are with other clubs they always play together. They value their team before their individual success. That is something that is not very common in the world of club volleyball nowadays.”
The team’s culture and sense of community does not stop there. Halstead’s mother, Madonna Merchant is the team’s high school winter coach and the team’s bus driver, Chris Schafer is the dad of former Redhawk Lydia Schafer who played for North Tama in the team’s last visit to state.
“I think that this team’s chemistry on and off the court [is a difference],” Katie Kopriva said. “We’re best friends. Us six seniors have been best friends forever and when we started playing together that made our bond stronger. I think that’s something we have that not a lot of teams do.
“Channing is like a second mom. She just cares about us just as if we were her own children.”
In the last three years, the program has won Iowa Star South Conference three years in a row while not losing a single conference game and now having made two state tournament appearances
Despite those accomplishments, North Tama come up short in the postseason after losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2017 and then being upset by Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the regional semifinal.
The Redhawks (26-6) return eight of their members from the 2017 state tournament team and as a result, North Tama will look to their experience and closeness as the team prepares for the state tournament.
“We’re going in with more confidence this time,” Halstead said. “I think last time we were just excited to be there. This time we are going in more with the intention of getting something done. It’s a different approach, the girls are more focused this time around to make some noise instead of just being there.”
North Tama will play Gehlen Catholic (25-7) to open the first round.
Statistically, Gehlen Catholic has .261 kill efficiency, has 13.84 digs per set and 2.20 blocks. In comparison, North Tama has a .230 kill efficiency, averages 14.73 digs and 1.27 blocks.
“We have seen a little bit of film,” Halstead said. “They are very aggressive with their attacking which we are almost better when teams are aggressive if that makes sense. We take a lot of pride in our defense and we base a lot of what we do off our defense so I’m hoping that our defense can accept that challenge. When our defense and offense are clicking we are really tough.
“We have to make sure that we take that aggressiveness they have and translate that into our side of the ball which we can do. They have good serving numbers and we do too. Size-wise they are pretty comparable. If we play our best and we have everybody on the same page we are pretty hard to beat.”
The two teams will meet at the U.S. Cellular Center tonight at 8 p.m.
Iowa Girls State Volleyball Tournament
At U.S. Cellular Center, Cedar Rapids
Wednesday, Nov. 13
No. 1 Sidney (35-8) vs. No. 8 Springville (20-16), 6 p.m.
No. 4 Le Mars Gehlen Catholic (25-7) vs. No. 5 North Tama (26-6), 8 p.m.
No. 2 Council Bluffs St. Albert (24-9) vs. No. 7 Holy Trinity Catholic (28-10), 6 p.m.
No. 3 Janesville (33-11) vs. No. 6 Wapsie Valley (23-15), 8 p.m.