Short-handed South Tama bows out to Union

Gwen Upah fires a shot toward the Union front line in the Trojans round one playoff loss on Oct. 19. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

The STC Trojans volleyball team had just completed an untimely quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure the day before they were tasked with playing Class 3A No. 7 Union Community.

The Knights come in as a 2019 3A State Semifinalist with some of the state’s top talent both at the front line and behind the service line.

The Trojans fell in a brief, season-ending sweep 3-0 to the Knights during the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs on Oct. 19.

“Obviously the girls were bummed out, but I think they were also glad to get some closure on their season,” head coach Sam Cantonwine said. “Even though it was only one practice and one game, if we weren’t able to play the last game it would have been really tough for our seniors.”

South Tama was at a disadvantage at nearly every turn Monday. Union’s roster is about three inches taller on average and has three more juniors and seniors compared to STC.

The mismatched teams yielded a lopsided outcome with Union dominating South Tama in all three sets 25-7, 25-10 and 25-6.

All-State senior Belle Weber led the night with 15 kills, several of which were assisted by stand-out setter Allie Driscol.

Driscol currently ranks second in the state with 926 assists and Weber, a Missouri State beach volleyball recruit, ranks second in the state with 508 kills.

Kills leaders for the Trojans on Monday were Ashlynn Ellenbecker and Ashlynn Kriegel, each with two.

Gwen Upah led the Trojans behind the line with seven successful serves.

The defensive end was where Cantonwine felt South Tama had its greatest success on Monday.

“I thought we were able to dig up a lot of balls that they sent towards us,” Cantonwine said. “They’re a very fast paced team. We’re a team that will not give up on any ball. Even though a lot of their plays ended in kills, you did not see a ball drop without one of our girls hitting the floor.”

Although teams throughout the state of Iowa have each experienced seasons unlike any other, South Tama has underwent about every setback a team could expect to encounter in a season.

The pandemic limited preseason activities early in the summer. Then a month after they were able to get into the gym, the derecho hit with power outages and storm damage putting a pause on practices for at least a week.

When the team finally made it to the postseason, they did so on the heals of a quarantine hiatus and without several experienced players that otherwise would have been starters.

Morgan Haughey and Kortney Babinat each had ACL injuries that occurred prior the start of the season.

A meniscus injury to Laurel Upah, an elbow injury to Alexis Babinat and a recent concussion to Bre Riha meant the Trojans would need to suit up several JV players against Union on Monday.

“If we didn’t have so many starters from last year out with injury I think the season would have looked a lot different,” Cantonwine said. “We knew Morgan and Kortney would be out at the beginning of the season. Even then we were able to take a game from Clear Creek-Amana who has been ranked in 4A this year.”

Cantonwine said the silver lining that might have come out of all the injuries her team has faced this year was that several younger players have gained valuable varsity repetitions that offer an opportunity for growth headed into next season.

“Mollie Wobeter for example, she was our backup setter and when we needed her, she really stepped up and played the role. She learned a ton and got so much experience,” Cantonwine said. “This year compared to last year, just knowing defense and knowing where to go and where to be has improved. Our freshman this year have picked up on those things really quick.”

The team graduates a group of six seniors including Morgan Haughey, Alexis Babinat, Alexis Meek, Shelby Slaven, Gwen Upah and Ashlynn Ellenbecker.

“This is a big group of seniors and they’ve meant a ton to our program,” Cantonwine said. “It’s going to be sad to see them leave. This group is very close. I always say that they’re like sisters because they can argue with each other and tell everyone how it is but then be best friends the next second. It’s always good to have a close group of seniors because it help keep us honest.”