Union's varsity volleyball squad proved why it's ranked No. 4 in Class 3A during its victory at South Tama County Thursday night.
The visiting Knights won the first two sets, both in convincing fashion, over the Trojans. However, with momentum on the Trojans' side after a third set victory and a fourth set lead, the Knights stormed back and finished the match before their backs went further against the wall.
Union scored the final six points of the fourth set, winning 25-19 and taking the match out from under the Trojans' feet. South Tama fell to 1-1 after beating rival Grinnell earlier in the week.
South Tama junior Samantha Holtz spikes a ball across the net during the first set of Thursday’s match against Union. STC nearly came back to beat the No. 4-ranked Knights, but fell in four sets.
"I thought we played a very good ranked team," STC coach Michelle Bradley said. "We just took a set from the No. 4-ranked team. I thought we played them hard. That first set was rough. We picked up momentum in the second set and by the third set, we were in it. Then we had them on the ropes that fourth set.
"It's just a matter of going back to our fundamentals and doing what we do best," she said. "I thought they did that during the third and fourth sets."
Union came out and played strong during the opening set, taking advantage of South Tama's mistakes. The Knights took a quick 12-3 lead before Bradley called a timeout. Following the break, junior Trisha Walz ended the run with a kill. STC scored two more points before Union made a run of its own. STC held its own the rest of the set, but lost 25-15.
Both squads battled back and forth throughout the early portion of the second set. Union took a two-point advantage at 9-7, which it maintained until it led 15-13. Walz had another kill to take possession back for STC. Then Union rattled off 10 consecutive points by recording several kills as the Trojans made unforced errors. Union won the set 25-13.
"We didn't get any momentum going in the first two sets," Bradley said. "That was more mental. I'm going to chalk it up to mental toughness. We couldn't get over some of their little mistakes. We would make a mistake and then think the world is crashing down on our shoulders. So we're still working on the mental aspect of the game. But we started pulling it back together."
Fresh off a rough defeat and facing a quick loss, South Tama came together in the third set. The Trojans took a lead at 8-7 and never looked back. They didn't blow out the Knights, but their lead never disappeared. Senior Shelby Bradley tipped a ball over the net for a point to take the lead and junior Paige Van Dyk served an ace to follow.
Later in the set, senior Riley Craun had a tip that trickled off an opponent's finger and out of bounds for an STC point. Junior Samantha Holtz served an ace on the next point and junior Jade Rohach stuffed Union for another point. STC led 17-11.
Union scored three straight points after a timeout. However, the Knights hit a spike into the net and served out of bounds on two of the next three points, giving STC back its momentum. Rohach blocked Union again to end the set and keep STC's hopes alive. STC won the set 25-21.
"They got a nice talking to in between sets and they were told that this team is beatable," coach Bradley said. "I told them that over and over and it clicked mentally. The critical piece in that third set is we got the blocks. We were blocking their hitters and defensively we were digging things. That frustrated them and their coach a bit. That was our bread and butter and that's what we needed to stay with.
"We also had energy," she said. "But that's the mental thing. They need that kind of energy even through the bad times and tough sets."
With momentum on its side and a slightly frustrated Union team across the net, South Tama began the fourth set on fire. The Trojans grabbed a fast 5-2 lead behind a kill and block from Rohach. Later in the set, S. Bradley served two aces and Rohach recorded a back-row kill as the Trojans built their lead to 12-6.
Following a timeout, Union stormed back and tied the set, before serving into the net and giving STC its lead back. The Trojans rattled off four consecutive points behind two kills from Walz. STC looked comfortable leading 17-12, but Union wasn't done fighting.
Rohach recorded another kill, giving STC an 18-13 lead. Then a Union kill sparked a six-point rally that gave the Knights a 19-18 advantage. After a serve out of bounds by Union tying the game, South Tama made a few mistakes and Union capitalized with kills. Union finished the match with a kill that found the floor quickly.
"It would have been a whole other thing," Bradley said about what would have happened if STC had won the fourth set . "In my mind, I thought we had it. We were up by four points, but unfortunately we couldn't keep that lead. I'm not disappointed in the girls. I thought they played very, very tough."
South Tama played at the BCLUW Invitational, where it finished second in 2011, on Saturday. The Trojans host AGWSR on Thursday. The freshman and junior varsity teams begin at 6 p.m. with the varsity to follow after 7 p.m.