If the fans weren't sweating enough from the hot gymnasium Tuesday night, the South Tama County and Grinnell varsity volleyball teams gave them something to sweat about on the court.
A hot, stuffy STC gym was enough to make the rival fans uncomfortable in their seats. However, the action on the court was almost too much to take as the rivals battled a roller coaster ride of five sets.
Neither squad was able to use momentum from a winning set to win back-to-back sets during the match. Both teams had moments of glory and other moments of mental lapses.
Members of the South Tama County varsity volleyball team were overcome with excitement at the end of Tuesday’s season opener, where the Trojans beat rival Grinnell in five sets. On the court, from left, are junior Samantha Holtz, senior Shelby Bradley, junior Emily Martin, junior Trisha Walz, senior Jade Rohach and junior Paige Van Dyk.
In the end, South Tama came out victorious in its opening match of the season. The Trojans finished off the Tigers by winning 15 of the final 18 points of the fifth set. They won the match (22-25, 25-14, 15-25, 25-18 and 15-7) and their home opener.
"They had moments when they showed us who they are," Bradley said. "Then there were moments that I hadn't seen for a little while and they weren't themselves. But I'm going to slough it off to our first home match and it's against our rival.
"Talk about a big win going to five games and playing the fifth set on the side we lost both of our sets," coach Michelle Bradley said. "That in itself was a mind over matter thing. For them to come out and take that fifth set was a huge deal and a huge confidence boost for the team."
For junior Trisha Walz, Tuesday night was a great way to celebrate a birthday.
"It was a great way to start the season," Walz said. "We got the win and it's my birthday. I wish we would have beaten them in three, but it was more exciting to beat them in the last set."
The match started with a back-and-forth set that seemed to be going in South Tama's favor midway through. STC led 12-9 and 15-12 at points in the set, but Grinnell rallied to take a 20-18 lead. The Tigers won the set, 25-22, when STC served the ball into the net on the final point.
South Tama led by three points in the middle of the second set, but a Grinnell serve out of bounds sparked a four-point run by the Trojans. After losing one point, junior Paige Van Dyk had a kill to give STC back the serve. The Trojans used the momentum as junior Samantha Holtz had a kill and two blocks to finish off the Tigers 25-14.
"These girls seem to be able to stay ahead if they get ahead," Bradley said. "Now, we need to be that team that if we get behind by five or six, we can catch up. We need to work on that."
With momentum clearly on its side, South Tama looked poised to take control of the match after the second set. However, the exact opposite happened in the third set.
The Trojans began making mental mistake after mental mistake. They were hitting balls into the net, making errant passes and struggling to put the ball over the net offensively. Grinnell ran away with the set. The Tigers led 7-2 and 11-3 before winning 25-15.
"We just started playing really timid," Bradley said. "I told them not to play timid, but go out and be the attackers that we know how to be and things will work out."
The STC players struggled to find a reason for the letdown, but they offered some suggestion for what might have happened in the third set.
"I think we got our heads too high and thought we had it," Holtz said. "We just got our heads too high."
With their backs against the wall, the Trojans responded in the fourth set. They took a quick 3-0 lead and built that to 6-1, before Grinnell tied it up at 9-9. Unforced errors by the Trojans gave Grinnell a 15-12 lead, but Holtz helped the Trojans rally with her serving. The Trojans scored two points before Holtz aced the Tigers, tying the set at 15-15. She served two more as the Trojans built their lead up to 20-15. Junior Emily Martin served an ace later in the set as STC won it 25-18.
"We were all pretty upset and down about the third game," Walz said. "But we knew we could come back. We were strong enough to come together and turn it around."
That left a shorter set first to 15 points as the final decider between the rival schools. With the match on the line, Grinnell took a 4-0 lead as STC stumbled with unforced offensive errors. A Grinnell serve into the net gave South Tama much-needed life and the Trojans ran with it.
Behind the serving of Walz, South Tama scored six straight points. During that stretch, junior Tori Appelgate, senior Jade Rohach and Van Dyk all recorded kills and Rohach had one block. South Tama's offense got back on track after another Appelgate kill. STC allowed only two more Tigers' points as it won the final set 15-7.
"They came through big time," Bradley said of Walz and Martin in the fifth set. "That was huge."
Bradley was proud of her team for fighting back from the 2-1 deficit in games.
"They came together and knew what needed to be done to get it done," she said. "We went back to our basics. We told them, 'this is what we do so let's go do it. Don't over think things and tip so much. Let's go back to our offense and hit the ball.' We knew where the holes were, but we had to put it there."
Earning the victory made it much easier for Bradley and her players to joke around with family and friends after the match.
"Everyone was saying, 'why'd you go to five games and couldn't you turn the AC on,'" Bradley said of the fans. "I wish it could have ended sooner and been a bit cooler in the gym, but it was an exciting win."
South Tama will play in the BCLUW Tournament on Saturday. It will begin at 9 a.m. The Trojans will be back at home on Tuesday against Gladbrook-Reinbeck, with the freshman and junior varsity beginning at 6 p.m.