CONRAD When all of its cylinders are clicking and players are communicating on the court, South Tama's volleyball team is a formidable force and it proved it Tuesday.
The Trojans blasted out of the gate with a 14-1 run to begin the match against BCLUW. Although the match had close moments early in the next two sets, the Trojans never lost their momentum as they swept the home Comets. STC improved to 13-12 with the victory.
"They just played lights out tonight," coach Michelle Bradley said. "I'm extremely pleased. We got first place in their tournament earlier this season. It was tight between these two teams, so it surprised me that we won so easily tonight. I think we're finally making that turn over the top of the hill."
South Tama senior Tori Appelgate serves to open the third set Tuesday at BCLUW. Appelgate served a pair of aces in the set as the Trojans swept the Comets, winning 25-13, 25-16 and 25-22.
Tuesday was South Tama's second time playing in Conrad this fall. Early in the season, STC won the BCLUW Round-Robin Invitational, so winning in the Comets' gymnasium is something that the Trojans have done well this season.
"This was a very big confidence builder for the girls going into regionals," Bradley said. "They have a goal in mind and they're determined to get there. As long as that determination is there, the coaches and I will do our best to pave that path for them to get there."
On Tuesday, South Tama started the match on fire. STC build a 7-0 lead behind the serving of junior Samantha Holtz and kills from senior Jade Rohach, junior Trisha Walz and Holtz. After one BCLUW point, South Tama scored seven more points, taking a 14-1 lead. During that stretch, Walz served two aces, junior Emily Martin recorded a block and junior Paige Van Dyk and Holtz had kills.
BCLUW clawed back into the match and closed the gap to seven points, as it was 20-13. Any momentum the Comets gained, the Trojans went to Rohach for a kill or timely block.
"She's the go-to gal," Bradley said of Rohach. "If the other team ever gets a big run or a few points, our girls will look this way and we'll call Jade's number and she'll step up. That usually works. She's our gal for times like that."
South Tama scored the final five points of the set to win 25-13. Holtz served an ace, while Rohach had a block and Martin scored a point with a tip during that run.
"We had a little sit-down discussion after last Saturday's performance," Bradley said. "They finally just decided that they want more. I told them how badly I want it and I want to see them want it more than me. If they can do that, they will be right where they want to be.
The second set of the match was a see-saw battle through the midway point in the set. STC extended a 12-9 lead to a 16-9 advantage with kills from Martin, Rohach and Van Dyk, along with a Rohach block. BCLUW rallied with four-straight points, closing the lead back to three. However, STC finished the set with style, winning nine of the next 12 points and the set 25-16. Martin served three-consecutive aces to spark the Trojans. Junior Madison Baack, Van Dyk and Walz each had kills during the final run.
"The key tonight was communication," Bradley said. "I'm going to say it until this team is gone and graduated, but when they communicate, they play like that. When that communication drops, their game drops. That's what the focus has been for the past week and a half. As soon as we start to click and communicate, we play a lot better."
Junior Tori Appelgate entered the game in the third set and served four-straight points to open the set. She served one of her two aces for the set to help the Trojans build a 4-0 lead. The Comets came back with an 8-1 rally, but not before STC took a 9-8 lead that it would never relinquish. STC remained ahead by a slim margin and finished the set winning 25-22 with a kill from Van Dyk. Walz and Rohach each recorded three kills during the final set.
"Our serving was phenomenal tonight," she said. "We missed 10 serves and most of them came in the third set. That makes or breaks games. That was the second thing on their list behind communication. They wanted to get serves over, especially at key times."
The Trojans coach was also proud of her setter, Baack, who has filled in as the full-time setter. Baack took over as the full-time setter for senior Shelby Bradley, who injured her ankle during warm-ups of the Trojans' home tournament.
"In the beginning, we really missed her," coach Bradley said of her daughter. "But I tell you what, this group of girls is very tight-knit, and Maddie Baack stepped up to the plate. I asked and away she went. She said, 'OK, I can do this coach.' She's that type of girl.
"I saw her make some key choices early tonight that I hadn't seen in her before," Bradley said of Baack. "So I think she's maturing into that setter who's going to be a leader. I think it was her best night of setting."
South Tama will wait a week to play its next match. STC will travel to Grundy Center to play the No. 1 team in Class 1A. The varsity match will start at 7:30 p.m., after the freshman and junior varsity matches, which start at 6 p.m.
"They are going to be able to dig a lot of what we put down," Bradley said. "Hopefully, we can dig back. So I'm hoping we win a lot of those long rallies, because winning those will hopefully give us momentum and extinguish their fire a little bit. They're tough."