Although the South Tama volleyball team will lose three valuable seniors from this year's roster, coach Michelle Bradley isn't left with a bare cupboard.
In fact, she will have a large contingent of seniors who saw significant minutes this fall. On top of the seven juniors, who will be seniors next year, Bradley will have a handful of juniors who will contribute after helping the junior varsity level as sophomores this year.
"I'm already looking forward to next season," said Bradley, who finished her second year as head coach of the Trojans. "The seniors were a fun group, but this junior class is a lot of fun, too."
This year's seniors (Riley Craun, Jade Rohach and Shelby Bradley) were all starters this fall. Craun was the Trojans' libero, Rohach was the star middle hitter and Bradley was the setter.
"We're definitely going to miss our seniors," Bradley said. "I don't have a libero right now for next season. I'm losing Riley, a very good middle in Jade and a very good setter in Shelby. I'm not sure what our offense will look like next fall."
Those seniors helped the Trojans finish with a 15-14 record, which included one district win over South Hardin. Rohach earned a first-team All-NICL honor and S. Bradley was named honorable mention All-NICL.
"We finished with a winning season," Bradley said. "We started out by winning the UNI Team Camp and the Iowa Games. Then we started the season at the BCLUW tournament and we won that. We won one more game than last year. When we were at the top of the rollercoaster, we seemed to fall down and lost matches we should have won, like against AGWSR."
South Tama swept Gladbrook-Reinbeck, East Marshall, BCLUW and Benton on NICL nights, which were best-of-five-sets matches. STC also started the season with a five-set victory over rival Grinnell, before nearly taking Union to a fifth set but losing in four sets. Union finished runner-up in the Class 3A state tournament as it lost to MOC-Floyd Valley in five sets.
"We took Union to four sets," Bradley said. "We almost went to five. Then we played them in our tournament and took them to three. We were right there within a few points. If they made it to the championship game, in my eyes, we are that close to being there, too. It's a matter of keeping that flow and focus."
The Trojans also battled some injuries during the season. The most significant was an ankle injury suffered by Shelby Bradley. During warm-ups for the opening match of the STC tournament, she stepped on a ball and rolled her ankle. She was out of action for a month. Junior Madison Baack stepped in as the Trojans primary setter.
"It was hard going from a 6-2 offense that was very successful to a 5-1," coach Bradley said. "Maddie Baack picked up the pace and stepped in for Shelby very nicely."
Bradley hopes the experience gained by Baack will carry over next fall. She hopes the same for all of the juniors that played on the varsity level this year. Those players were Tori Appelgate, Emily Martin, Paige Van Dyk, Trisha Walz, Samantha Holtz, Taylor Muhlstein and Baack.
Several sophomores were moved up to practice with the varsity during the final weeks of the season. They were Catie Collins, Laural Scharnweber, Sadie Kavalier and Erin Clayton.
"I'm hoping the experience carries over to next year," Bradley said. "I also brought those four sophomores up at the end of the season. They didn't get much playing time, but they practiced with us and that will help, along with that experience I will have in this year's juniors being seniors next year.
"Our junior group is very good," Bradley said. "I have a feeling that even though I think they lose some focus later on in the season, they will step up next year, especially if they want to play somewhere. I know several of them want to play at the next level."