GRUNDY CENTER - South Tama's volleyball team nearly did something that hadn't happened in three years - take a set from Grundy Center during an NICL match - on Tuesday night.
The Trojans had set-point in the opening set of the night, but Class 1A's top-ranked Spartans went to their star for must-needed points. The Spartans used the momentum gained in those final points to sweep South Tama and finish the conference season unbeaten.
Grundy Center is now 27-4 overall and 7-0 in the NICL West Division, while STC dropped to 13-13 and 4-3 in the conference.
South Tama junior Samantha Holtz spikes a ball past Grundy Center’s Samantha Meyers Tuesday night. The No. 1-ranked Spartans swept STC.
"We played well and we had them on the ropes," STC coach Michelle Bradley said. "They don't have sets that ever get that close, so I wanted the second and third sets to go that way, too."
South Tama found itself in a hole early in the match as Grundy Center blocked the Trojans twice en route to building a 3-0 lead. The Spartans pushed that lead to 6-2 after a kill from their star senior Samantha Meyers.
The Trojans hung tough and tied the set at 9-9 after a kill from junior Trisha Walz and a GC rotation error. Grundy Center came back and built a small lead again, but not without a fight from the Trojans. A four-point STC rally tied the set at 18-18. Junior Madison Baack served an ace and the Spartans committed unforced errors, forcing the GC coach to call a timeout.
The set remained a see-saw battle for the final points. Senior Riley Craun recorded a back-row kill that tied the set at 19-19, but a short serve by the Trojans gave GC a lead. Junior Emily Martin served an ace and a GC hit out of bounds gave STC a 23-22 lead. Another STC serve out of bounds tied the set, before junior Paige Van Dyk tipped the ball across the court, giving STC a 24-23 lead and the serve to take the set.
Grundy Center set Meyers on the next two points and won both, taking a 25-24 lead. The set ended when the Trojans were called for a two-hand violation on a set. GC won it 26-24.
"We got down four or five points, but we came back," Bradley said. "I was proud of the girls for fighting back and taking a lead late in that first set.
"If we would have won that first set, I think it would have been different second and third sets," she said. "But unfortunately, in our girls' eyes, they lost by a ton that first set. I said ladies, 'You took them to extra points and they used all their timeouts. He called timeouts on you guys, because you were playing so well. You need to bring that into the second set.' I wish we could have kept that fire into the second and third sets."
The second set of the night remained close early, with Grundy Center holding on to a small lead. A kill from Craun and a tip from Walz pulled South Tama within two points at 10-8. Then the Spartans began taking control of the set and the Trojans began making costly mistakes. The Spartans won 15 of the last 22 points as they won the set 25-15.
"In the second set, the balloon was big when we started, but it shrunk way down during that set," Bradley said. "We lost their talk. We lost our communication and fire, which are the two things I've been preaching all year. We also had some key missed serves at key times."
South Tama dug itself a large hole to start the third set after taking a 1-0 lead. Grundy Center scored the next seven points, and three more after a quick STC point. South Tama found itself down 10-2 early in the set and struggled to fight back against the No. 1 Spartans.
The Trojans kept the set from getting out of control, but could never close the lead to less than seven points. They scored three in a row at the end, as senior Jade Rohach had a kill and junior Samantha Holtz had a block to start a rally. However, the match ended when a Trojan kill landed near the back line and was called out of bounds.
"One of my big things was I wanted to win the long rallies," Bradley said. "I thought if we could do that, it would keep our fire going. We didn't do that. Losing those long rallies took any wind we had out of our sails."
Bradley had hoped her team had turned the corner and was playing well as the regular season winds down, but she saw some bad signs in the final two sets on Tuesday.
"I thought we were there, but then I saw our old team come back in the second and third sets," Bradley said. "The rollercoaster is back. Unfortunately, we were back on that ride the last two sets tonight."
The Trojans will take a week off and will be back in action next Thursday at home against Benton Community. It will be senior night for the Trojans. The match will begin at 7:30 p.m.