GRINNELL Michelle Bradley was grinning ear to ear following Tuesday's season-opening match here.
Her South Tama County volleyball team accomplished a feat it hadn't done since 2011. The Lady Trojans swept rival Grinnell to begin the 2013 season. The STC head coach wasn't shy about being excited after the match.
"To sweep Grinnell is always sweet," Bradley said with a smile. "It's a sweet sweep. I like a sweet sweep."
South Tama senior Samantha Holtz, left, is joined by fellow seniors Paige Van Dyk and Trisha Walz in celebration of winning a long point Tuesday. STC beat rival Grinnell in three-straight sets in its opening match of the season.
It wasn't all smiles for Bradley and the Lady Trojans on Tuesday night. They struggled with the hometown Tigers during the first two sets, but won in overtime. Then the Lady Trojans stomped the Tigers in the final set for a convincing sweep.
"The first two sets were way too close for me," Bradley said. "We weren't playing up to par and we had a couple of girls not feeling well. You know what, they played passed it and I'm very proud of them."
South Tama swept Grinnell to begin the 2011 season. Last year, South Tama opened with the Tigers at home and won in five sets.
On Tuesday, the Lady Trojans didn't need five sets to win their first match of the season. Instead, they matched the defending Little Hawkeye champions point for point during the first two sets.
Grinnell took the opening three points of the first match behind three STC first-game jitters. Grinnell continued to lead 9-7 before South Tama scored four straight points behind a back-row kill by senior Emily Martin and senior Trisha Walz aces.
STC continued to lead deep into the set until it was 20-16. STC serve-receive mistakes and hits into the net helped Grinnell score five-straight points and regain the lead at 21-20. Following an STC timeout, Grinnell scored three points to take the set to game-point. However, a Grinnell passing error gave STC new life despite trailing 24-21.
Senior Samantha Holtz served the Lady Trojans back into the contest. Her serving, along with Grinnell errors, helped tie the set at 24-24. Grinnell had three more game-point opportunities, but a passing mistake and kills from STC seniors Paige Van Dyk and Tori Appelgate kept the Lady Trojans in the contest. Appelgate's kill tied the set at 27-27.
"They came back in the huddle and fought through it," Bradley said. "They were talking about where holes were and to swing through. We had our sets mapped out. They took care of it. They knew what they had to do. We knew cross-middle was open, so we hit a cross-middle and boom, we were right back in it."
Another Van Dyk kill gave STC its first lead since it led 20-19. However, on the next point, Holtz blocked Grinnell's attack but the ball landed out of bounds, tying the score once again. On the following point, Van Dyk targeted an open spot on the floor with a tip, giving STC a lead. A Grinnell error on the next point gave STC a victory in the wild set at 30-28.
"We definitely improved as the night went on," Bradley said. "We'd start to pull away and then we'd let them back in and then we'd start pulling away and we'd let them back in. In my opinion, we created some character. We proved that can battle in the long sets. Conditioning wise, I feel we were just as fresh in the third set as we were in those long super sets."
The second set of the night was quite similar to the first. Grinnell grabbed an early lead, but South Tama took control and maintained a small margin until late in the set. A back-row kill from Holtz gave South Tama a 23-19 lead and it looked as if the game was nearly over.
However, no one told Grinnell. The Tigers recorded a kill and an ace, in addition to a pair of STC mistakes, en route to tying the game at 23-23. Holtz gave STC a lead and game-point with a tip for a score on the next point. Then STC's serve went long and the set was tied once again, 24-24.
Both squads exchanged points one more time as Holtz earned a kill, but an STC passing error prolonged the set. The Lady Trojans responded with a kill from Walz before Grinnell's attack went long. The Lady Trojans won the set 27-25 and took a 2-0 set lead in the match.
"We got up six and then (Grinnell) got up again," Bradley said. "We had to regroup a bit. We have a couple things to work on and I was making notes like a crazy coach over here. We know what we have to work on, let's put it that way."
The final set of the night belonged to South Tama. It was over as quickly as it began. With a 5-2 lead, Appelgate earned a kill before serving three aces to help STC take an 11-2 advantage. After one Grinnell point, Holtz earned a block and two aces during a 5-0 STC stretch.
The set went back-and-forth during the final minutes, with each squad scoring one or two points before the other would do the same. Neither team scored more than two-consecutive points after STC led 16-3. The set and match finished with a Walz kill and an excited STC celebration on the court.
"We decided enough is enough," Bradley said. "That's where the girls were. I told them, 'You can see (Grinnell) hasn't changed anything and there's no new people out there. What do you see? Can you take care of it early?' They said 'yes, we can.'
"We proved we can win the tight ones, now let's prove to everybody else we can push past that, take a team and get it over with," she said. "I was happy to see that."
Holtz led the Lady Trojans in kills with 17, while Van Dyk and Walz each added 10 kills. Senior Madison Baack, who is the STC setter, recorded 26 assists in the match. Holtz and Walz also led STC in digs with eight apiece. Sophomore Belle Tyynismaa had seven digs in the match. Appelgate and Holtz led the team in aces with three and two, respectively.
On Thursday, South Tama traveled to La Porte City to play Union, who advanced to the Class 3A state championship a year ago.
"Their coach was right up here scouting us," Bradley said. "We're just going to have to come out stronger with them than we did here tonight. We can't come out like that at Union and the girls know that."
South Tama will play at the BCLUW Invitational on Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m. On Tuesday, STC will play at Gladbrook-Reinbeck. The match will start at 6 p.m. with the freshman and junior varsity matches.