If South Tama County's volleyball program is going to take the next step and achieve its goals for the season, it's going to be on the shoulders of the 2014 seniors class.
The Lady Trojans, who begin their season Tuesday in Grinnell, will be led by their seven varsity seniors, all of whom suited up for varsity a year ago. Six of those seven played significant minutes during the 2012 varsity season, where the Lady Trojans finished with a 15-14 record.
Now the burden and responsibility lies with this group, but they're ready for the challenge.
South Tama County's volleyball seniors are anxious to start the season as they step into the leadership role of a Lady Trojans squad with lofty goals. The eight seniors, left to right, are Tori Appelgate, Emily Martin, Paige Van Dyk, Taylor Muhlstein, Samantha Holtz, Trisha Walz, Madison Baack and Tess Christensen.
"Jade (Rohach), Shelby (Bradley) and Riley (Craun) were good leaders for us last year," senior Trisha Walz said. "Now we're ready to step into position. Hopefully we can show the underclassmen how to do it."
As a team, they've set goals, which include winning the North Iowa Cedar League West Division and advancing deep into the postseason.
"Conference champs is a big one," senior Madison Baack said. "Hopefully qualify for state, too. If we want to do that, we can't get down on ourselves," Holtz said. "We have to maintain good attitudes and communicate on the court. We have to have communication."
Head coach Michelle Bradley is excited about this fall, because of her senior class.
"That experience is going to lead to tremendous leadership on the court," Bradley said. "Even in our scrimmage today at practice, there were a couple of things that went wrong that I saw. Before I got to the huddle, they had it figured out. It's that kind of crew.
"I'm not sure I want to say it, but they can coach themselves at times," she added. "Then there are times where I tell them I want them to run something because of what I'm seeing on the other side of the court. As a coach, you'd like your kids to know to run their own offense so I can pay attention to the other team's defense. I don't have to focus on my kids as much, so I can help the team out by knowing what the other team is doing."
In fact, Bradley is quite praiseful of her seniors, some of whom started on the varsity team as sophomores.
"They are all on the National Honor's Society," Bradley said. "I can say one thing to them and they will pick it up right away. In the beginning, we introduced a lot of plays and they were confused. Now, they're tweaking their own play.
"Their communication has greatly improved," she said. "Two years ago, there was not talking. Nothing. Now they communicate a whole lot better. Intelligence wise, I think they understand the game better now. Footwork has also been a big deal. Once you fix their feet, everything else falls into place. It sounds like a little thing communication and footwork but it's huge in this game."
The seven returning varsity seniors are Tori Appelgate, Baack, Samantha Holtz, Emily Martin, Taylor Muhlstein, Paige Van Dyk and Walz. Tess Christensen is also a senior for the Lady Trojans, but will be playing on the junior varsity level. Christensen is a foreign exchange student from Holland and she's living with junior Catie Collins and her family while studying at South Tama during the 2013-14 school year.
The other varsity roster spots that are filled include junior Alana Vest, Collins, junior Raven Hall, junior Laurel Scharnweber, sophomore Belle Tyynismaa and junior Sadie Kavalier. All of them will be new to the varsity level.
Last year's Lady Trojans struggled to find consistency. Their level of play went up and down during each week or even each match. With a strong senior class and a handful of upperclassmen on the roster, Bradley is hoping this fall won't be quite as stressful.
"I hope they can get over that hump," Bradley said. "If they have a couple of bad points in a row, they are really good about coming together. They don't have to be talking volleyball in that huddle. They are good about letting that point go and concentrating on the next one. Hopefully that will help to avoid that roller coaster. They are also conditioning hard. They know they need to condition. We'd lag a bit in that second set, so we're conditioning quite a bit to help get us through that second set."
South Tama will start its season Tuesday at Grinnell. The freshman and junior varsity teams will start at 5:30 p.m. with the varsity match to follow.
"I'm excited," Walz said. "We better win, because it's against Grinnell."
STC will host Union on Thursday for its home opener. The match will begin at 6 p.m. and varisty will start at 7 p.m.
When asked about each of the returning seniors, South Tama County head coach Michelle Bradley was quite praiseful of each girl's talents. Here are her comments about each of the seven players.
Madison Baack setter
"She's become this great leader. Her sets are getting more and more precise and she wants them to be precise. So she will continue to work until she gets them to be that way."
"She has this amazing tip that her dad goes crazy over. She feels it. She can feel an opening, so she will dump it. She knows when her team is in trouble, so she will dump it to give her team that chance to get back into defensive position."
Emily Martin libero
"She played right side last year and she did a fabulous job there last year. This year, I'm using one setter, not two, and Emily has a great read. She can read the ball and she has quick feet. Her passes are great, too. She can be at some goofy angle running off of the court and the next thing you know the ball is popped right up to Madie Baack. She has the angles."
Samantha Holtz middle hitter
"Holy smokes, she can hit the ball. She is also extremely bright. She plays middle back, too, so she plays all the way around. She is a very good read in the back row. I'll see a ball that I think will hit the back corner and she'll get a hand on it. She can mix her serves up. I'd say right after slamming the ball and she can place it anywhere, serving is her strong point. She has an amazing top spin and really, really nice float. She can also mix them up."
Paige Van Dyk outside hitter
"She has improved so much. Her approach scares me. She comes at that ball so aggressive. She is a natural outside hitter and the girl can jump. She will just play front row for us. She has such a powerful approach that she gets caught underneath the ball. We want them to take the ball out in front of them, but she takes it too far back and just sends it. We're working on getting behind the ball."
"I'd also say her serve is good, too," Bradley said. "I've got Emily Martin coming in for her in the back row, so I'm struggling with who am I going to have serve? Paige has a wonderful top-spin serve, while Em has a nice top and float. Paige is working on her float. So who do I have serve?"
Trisha Walz outside hitter
"She is a very coachable kid. She is probably the spark, because she will gets things going. We can feed her the ball and she'll get the spark we need, because of her power. She can hit front row or back row. She is very versatile. Right after that, she digs the ball very, very well. She's a great passer. That's one of her very strong points. She's a great leader, too. She always tries to keep the team positive and focused."
Tori Appelgate outside hitter
"Oh my gosh, she was amazing last year. Last year, she just played right side, but this year she is playing all the way around. She can pass and she's quick. That jumping program has really benefitted her. She is going to be hard to reckon with this year."
Taylor Muhlstein middle hitter
"She could be my utility front row girl. She's come a long way. She is smart and quick to know the game. She is open for anything. She is easily coachable, but she is loyal and will do what she's asked. She's one of those players that if she's having an off day, she will tell her teammates not to set something or do something a particular way. She is very willing to try anything. She can block, too. That's her biggest strength. The jumping program has really helped her and she can get up over the net."