On a night where her team and the home crowd lacked energy, especially for its home opener, South Tama County head coach Michelle Bradley searched for answers following Tuesday's victory.
Normally, a match between North Iowa Cedar League West rivals South Tama and West Marshall brings visions of a loud, competitive gym. South Tama's gym is also normally loud and raucous during home volleyball matches. Also, a coach, whose team just won a match in three-straight sets doesn't look for answers after the match.
However, Tuesday's NICL match wasn't normal.
"I don't know," Bradley said about the quiet gym Tuesday. "We weren't tired and it wasn't hot. There just wasn't any energy in the gym."
Despite the unusually quiet conditions, South Tama made quick work of the visiting Trojans. South Tama (10-5, 4-0) defeated West Marshall, 25-15, 25-21, 25-17.
The sweep wasn't enough to keep Bradley from giving her team a challenge.
"I was just asking the girls, 'How do we keep that spark?' In the huddle, I talked about, 'What can you do to get things going? What can you do to ignite that flame in the bench, on the court or in the crowd. I left them with that tonight and they're supposed to come back with answers," Bradley said.
"I was talking to (assistant coach) Holly (Kupka) about how I don't know how to get that fire all of the time," she said. "When it is a boring match, we have to figure out how to get our girls to step up and play like it's a match for the championship."
While Bradley was stumped about her team's lack of energy, the STC players enjoyed sweeping West Marshall (6-15, 0-4), who beat South Tama in three-straight sets a year ago in State Center.
"That felt great," STC senior Samantha Holtz said. "We thought they were going to be a lot tougher, but it was nice to put them away. It feels great to have our first home game and get a win."
After nearly a month on the road, South Tama coaches and players were thrilled to win their first home match of the fall.
"We've been on the road so it's really nice to be home," Bradley said. "They were so excited, not only for the match, but they were excited to hear their warm-up CD. They spent a lot of time putting that together this summer. We got the warm-up CD on and it was nice to see such a great crowd."
South Tama used a big rally to pull away from West Marshall during two of the three sets. STC trailed 12-11 in set one before senior Paige Van Dyk's serving boosted the Trojans. A pair of Van Dyk aces, in addition to a tip from senior Trisha Walz, helped the Lady Trojans go on a 9-0 run. STC finished the set with a back-row kill from Holtz.
"I was just pumped that it was our first home game," Holtz said. "I was just excited to get out there and get our first home win."
A kill from Holtz gave STC an 8-4 lead in the second set. West Marshall rallied with a 7-2 run, taking an 11-10 lead. South Tama came back behind kills from senior Tori Appelgate and Walz to take a lead it never relinquished. Appelgate added an ace during the set, before closing it with a kill.
Despite being down two sets, West Marshall wasn't done fighting. The visiting Trojans started the third set 5-0, but South Tama answered with a 5-0 run behind kills from Holtz and Appelgate, along with three-straight Van Dyk aces.
Van Dyk led South Tama with six aces. Walz and Appelgate added three and two aces, respectively. Baack converted all 15 serves with an ace. As a team, South Tama missed only 8-of-74 serves Tuesday.
"We served really well tonight," Bradley said. "We had 12 aces in three sets. That was probably the best we've served and we've been working on that in practice."
South Tama trailed 9-7 before it went on another big run. Three aces from Walz and a Van Dyk kill helped STC score six-straight points. Following one West Marshall point, South Tama rattled off nine in a row. Senior Madison Baack served those nine points, which included one ace from Baack and two kills each from Holtz and Appelgate.
West Marshall rallied with six-straight, closing the gap in half. However, South Tama finished the set and match with a 3-1 run. Van Dyk recorded a block to spark the run and Holtz finished the match with a kill from the front row.
"After a boring match, it was nice to end on something exciting," Holtz said. "I guess we were a little bored, because they were easier than we thought. We just needed to keep our energy up and run better plays."
South Tama's coach did see some positive in the conference victory.
"Tonight was probably one of the very best nights where I saw the girls put the bad point behind them," Bradley said. "There, for the longest time, we would let other teams roll five or six points off of us, because we couldn't get past that last point. Tonight was probably the best night I've seen them move on from that bad point."
Holtz led the STC attack with 12 assists, while Walz and Appelgate added 10 and eight kills, respectively. Walz led STC with 12 digs and Holtz recorded eight digs during the match, while sophomore Belle Tyynismaa and Baack had five each. Baack recorded 22 assists in the victory.
"Her digs," Bradley said of what impressed her about Holtz's performance. "What about her digs? She had 12 kills tonight and I'd say a handful of those were from the back row. I was impressed with that. She was kind of our spark or go-to gal when we needed a big kill. Trisha also had a big night. That girl is just rock solid. I love watching her play. Tori had a big night, too. I thought Tori had a good night."