Sam Holtz began Monday's postseason match serving aces to lead South Tama's volleyball team in its postseason opener.
She also finished it with aces.
South Tama's junior middle hitter helped the Trojans avoid an early exit from the Class 3A district tournament. The Trojans completed a rally, which lasted the final two sets Monday, with a strong final set as they defeated South Hardin in five sets for the second time this fall.
South Tama junior Samantha Holtz serves an ace to end Monday’s match against South Hardin. Holtz served back-to-back aces to finish the postseason match.
"I knew we had to bring it," STC coach Michelle Bradley said. "I didn't know what else to do differently, other than telling them to stop getting on each other. They did it. They had to do it tonight. I had to tell them in the huddle, 'it's all on you. We've got you this far, now you have to take over.'"
When South Tama needed a win to prolong its season, its squad of upperclassmen came through with a strong fifth set. Holtz recorded a kill to help the Trojans build a 2-0 lead, which improved to 5-2 after a kill from senior Shelby Bradley and an ace from junior Emily Martin. However, South Hardin rallied back with four-straight points, taking a 7-6 lead midway through the set.
The Trojans came back with their own rally. A kill from Holtz and a tip from junior Madison Baack sparked the rally. Junior Paige Van Dyk also had a kill from the back row before serving an ace as STC took a 10-7 lead. South Hardin kept it close until the Trojans scored the final three points. Junior Trisha Walz had a kill to make the score 13-9, before Holtz served a pair of aces to end the match.
"Sam Holtz came through in the clutch tonight," coach Bradley said. "She had five aces on the night."
Holtz also served three aces early in the first set. She wasn't sure why her serving was so successful, but she enjoyed ending the set and match with two aces.
"It felt amazing," Holtz said. "I just try to do my best. I don't really know why it was working tonight."
Holtz's serving, along with an aggressive offense, helped the Trojans get off to a quick start Monday. Senior Jade Rohach blocked the Tigers on the opening point of the game and Martin recorded a kill on the next point. With a 2-0 lead, Holtz served three-consecutive aces. Rohach and Walz also had a combined block as the Trojans led 8-0 early in the match.
South Hardin closed the Trojans' lead to four points in the set, but the Trojans hung tough. Rohach had two kills and an ace soon after South Hardin trimmed the lead. The Trojans scored the final four points of the set as they won 25-16. Rohach and Van Dyk each had a kill before Martin ended it with an ace.
"In the first game, we came out on fire," Rohach said. "I thought we did great in that first game. It always seems to be the middle games where we let up, because we think we have it. We took them to five the first time we played, so I think we might have thought we had them easily after the first game."
A 6-0 run got the host Trojans out to a 9-1 lead in the second set, but too many STC swinging errors cost them a chance at a 2-0 advantage. They held a 21-17 lead before South Hardin swung momentum late in the set.
"When we get to the 20-point mark, we think we have it if we just keep playing," Rohach said. "Then they come out of nowhere and play really well."
The Tigers denied South Tama on set point with a kill by Haley Lawrence, and Kayla Prosser's kill tied it at 24-all. A quick set to Lawrence and an outside set to Ellen Swartz gave South Hardin the second set.
The Tigers took the momentum and charged out to an 11-2 lead to open the third set, and South Tama's offense lost its way. Rohach, the team's kills leader and an all-NICL West performer, had only one kill in the third set and on limited chances.
"I'm not usually one who says, 'Set it here,' or 'don't set it here,' but I said 'set the middles,'" coach Bradley said. "We needed to stay away from the right side but for some reason we wanted to set that side. Our middles just came alive.
"That was a rollercoaster match," she said. "I felt bad for our right-side hitters, but we had to stay away from the right side. We had to go back to our middle hitters."
With its season on the brink, South Tama went on a 8-0 run during the fourth set to take a 17-7 lead. During that stretch, Rohach, Walz and Martin had kills, while Bradley served a trio of aces.
"We told each other we had to start over, like it was the first game," Holtz said. "We also had to calm down and do what we know how to do."
STC finished the fourth set by scoring the final seven points. Van Dyk added two kills during that surge, including a straight-down turnaround of a South Hardin dig that cleared the net. Trisha Walz had an ace as well to help force the deciding fifth game.
"Paige was on fire tonight," coach Bradley said. "Our middles also came alive. Jade and Sam both had great nights."
Rohach's 16 kills and Samantha Holtz's 10 kills got the ball away from South Hardin's best blocking tandem as STC began setting its middle hitters. Van Dyk added a season-high 15 kills on the outside.
Holtz and Walz led South Tama with 12 digs apiece, and Bradley had 11. Bradley totaled 16 assists and Madison Baack had 13, while Holtz had a team-high five aces. Rohach and Walz both totaled three blocks and Waltz had two more.
The Trojans (15-13) advanced to the regional semifinals. Tenth-ranked Mount Vernon (25-10) dispatched East Marshall in three sets to earn a trip to Tama on Thursday night. No. 8-ranked West Liberty (27-9) will face CMB (7-13) in Williamsburg on the other half of the bracket.
"It's really good, because our crowd was amazing," Rohach said. "It will be nice to be back at home."