Rebels rebuff relentless Redhawks
REINBECK — The Class 1A No. 4 Gladbrook-Reinbeck volleyball was prepared for the best North Tama had to offer, even as the Redhawks’ roster fluctuated throughout the week.
Regardless of who lined up across from the Rebels in Wednesday’s Region 4 quarterfinals, they were ready for it.
G-R senior outside hitter Saari Kuehl compiled team-highs of 22 digs and 16 kills to help lead the Rebels past the neighboring Redhawks, sweeping their nearly full-strength lineup by scores of 25-19, 25-15, 25-22.
North Tama senior outside hitter Abby DeBoef was the only one of five Redhawks who remained absent from the gymnasium after missing Monday’s first-round victory over GMG due to COVID-related quarantining. The other four Redhawks — senior Dylan Rohlfsen and sophomores Jadyn Rausch, Lainey Willenbring and Shae Ewoldt — all returned to action after North Tama’s case was heard by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, according to head coach Channing Halstead.
In the end, however, the Redhawks’ reinvigorated roster came up short against the fourth-ranked Rebels (30-2) as Kuehl and Co. came through when they needed to.
“We didn’t really know what was going on and what to expect, so we just knew we had to be ourselves and control our side of the net and do what we can,” said Kuehl. “Everyone was wondering what was going on but we just knew it would come down to our side of the net.”
Gladbrook-Reinbeck had the finishing touch to put each set to rest, using decisive runs to finish off the Redhawks (15-14).
“I will just tell you that I’m glad all the information got heard, and it has been awful on these kids,” Halstead said. “My body has been through so many emotions the last five days, from being so disappointed to being so proud to being so sad and so mad — it’s just been a roller coaster.”
Without five rotation regulars, the Redhawks survived a shaky performance to put away GMG, 3-1, in Monday’s opening round before the decision to quarantine four of five players was overturned. North Tama put its best remaining foot forward, and for a while the Redhawks remained in lockstep with the host Rebels.
But Gladbrook-Reinbeck used its experience, its serving and its balanced attack to close out each set.
“We knew coming in North Tama was going to have almost everybody back, but we’d been practicing for that,” said G-R head coach Paula Kelley. “On Monday we were practicing for the team they would usually bring.
“We don’t know all the circumstances so we don’t make any of that decision whatsoever. We control our side of the net and we don’t worry about who’s on the other side of the net.”
For North Tama, that meant DeBoef — the team’s kills leader — was missing from action. Her three kills per set might have come in handy as the Redhawks tried to avenge three earlier losses to the Rebels this season.
Instead, Kuehl compiled 16 kills on 29 swings with only one error, and North Tama’s block proved mostly inferior. But the Redhawks’ back row resisted with great persistence, and they hung around to make the Rebels work for the next round.
In the opening set, North Tama led 6-2 before G-R fought back to within 11-10. A five-point swing served up by Mahayla Olson got the Rebels on top for good in an eventual 25-19 triumph. Gladbrook-Reinbeck scored three of the final four points to put the opener away, closing with a back-row attack from Kuehl and a block by Ava Wyatt and Megan Cooley.
North Tama again took an early lead in the second set, but the Rebels were ready for it. Kuehl delivered a 9-0 run from the service line before G-R setter Emma McClintock finished it off with an unexpected set over the net for the final point.
The third set was the most hotly contested one of the match, but as the Redhawks’ attack was reduced to pushes and tips, the Rebels’ big swings started heating up. Megan Cooley put down an over-pass, and an Olson ace gave Gladbrook-Reinbeck a 22-21 lead. Kuehl scored two of the final three points herself as the Rebels advanced to the regional semifinals.
Behind Kuehl’s team-leading 16 kills, Katie Clark racked up six kills in the middle while Cooley and Olson had four each.
“Our passing wasn’t as great so we weren’t able to spread it around as much as we’d like to,” Kelley said of the Rebels’ offense. “It was pretty good, not our best — we were not as sharp as we usually are, but we were scrappy, much more scrappy than we have been in the past, so that was good to see.”
McClintock assisted on 26 of G-R’s 31 kills. Kuehl’s 22 digs led the defense, and senior Libero Alyssa Morgan had 19 digs. Olson added 13. Cooley’s three blocks helped the Rebels resist North Tama’s offspeed attack, which was led unofficially by Alexis Hansen with eight kills and two blocks. Rausch, the Redhawks’ sophomore setter, added seven kills, Willenbring had four, while both Ewoldt and Mya Sierra had three more.
Aubree Monat, North Tama’s junior Libero, led the way with three service aces.
“Twenty-four hours ago some of our girls just learned they were going to be able to play, and it sucks for Abby not to be out there to end her season, but our three seniors have a hell of a resume,” Halstead said. “Four-time conference champions, two times to state — they had nothing to hang their head about.”
Gladbrook-Reinbeck will get another familiar foe in the regional semifinals on Monday night, as the Rebels will host NICL West Division rival BCLUW (20-15) in a 7 p.m. match in Reinbeck. The Comets took care of Lynnville-Sully in four sets, 25-16, 18-25, 25-12, 25-12, in their regional quarterfinal Wednesday night in Conrad.
“We know as much about them as they know about us: just about everything,” Kelley said. “It will just come down to front-row play, and who can find the holes well enough to win.”