CONRAD - The only Class 2A team from the Iowa Star Conference might have accomplished its goal, if not for the only 3A team entered in the BCLUW Varsity Volleyball Invitational.
North Tama reached the finals of Saturday's eight-team tournament, only to suffer defeat at the hands of New Hampton for a second time to deny the Redhawks' quest to capture the event championship.
But North Tama may have found something greater, as adjustments to the lineup yielded the complete package head coach Stan Upah was looking for.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
North Tama senior outside hitter Shannon Stuart (2) goes for the attack against New Hampton blocker Nicole Mulford (5) during the first set of Saturday’s championship match at the Comet Invite in Conrad. New Hampton won in three sets.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
East Marshall junior Claire Johnson, right, goes for the tip against New Hampton’s Jessie Crooks during their semifinal match at BCLUW’s Comet Invitational on Saturday in Conrad.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
Comet sophomore middle hitter Nicole Montgomery (15) tries to block the attack of North Tama’s Allie Zobel (8) during their semifinal bout.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
"We did, we came in to win this tournament," he said. "We adjusted lineups and positioning halfway through and we brought a lot better game after we adjusted."
With only one week remaining in the regular season, teams are just trying to find their stride at the right time. Despite a three-set championship loss, the Redhawks look and feel like they're going in the right direction.
And they weren't alone.
Comet Varsity Volleyball Invitational
BCLUW 21-21, East Marshall 13-15
BCLUW 21-21, Meskwaki 13-9
BCLUW 21-21, Manson-NW Webster 18-10
East Marshall 21-19-15, Meskwaki 17-21-10
East Marshall 13-21-15, Manson-NW Webster 21-15-10
Manson-NW Webster 23-21, Meskwaki 21-10
New Hampton 21-21, Gladbrook-Reinbeck 19-15
New Hampton 21-21, North Tama 9-12
New Hampton 21-21, West Marshall 14-17
North Tama 21-21, Gladbrook-Reinbeck 16-18
North Tama 21-21, West Marshall 7-16
Gladbrook-Reinbeck 21-20-16, West Marshall 17-22-14
West Marshall 25-25, Manson-NW Webster 21-20
Gladbrook-Reinbeck 25-25, Meskwaki 19-12
West Marshall 25-25, Gladbrook-Reinbeck 14-17
North Tama 25-31-15, BCLUW 19-33-13
New Hampton 21-25-15, East Marshall 25-14-12
New Hampton 18-25-15, North Tama 25-21-12
BCLUW went 3-0 through pool play and nearly knocked off North Tama in a nail-biter of a semifinal, falling 25-19, 31-33, 15-13.
East Marshall, meanwhile, doubled its season win total with a 2-2 day that ended in a three-set loss to eventual champion New Hampton in the semifinals, 21-25, 25-14, 15-12.
After two thrilling final four bouts, the title match refused to disappoint, too. North Tama took the opening set but lost track of some of the Chickasaws' top hitters at the wrong times as New Hampton prevailed, 18-25, 25-21, 15-12.
"We've played multiple ranked teams and we've played right with them for a while," Upah said. "We've played some big teams some tough matches similar to this so I thought we could get this one."
Jennifer Ankrom led the Chickasaws (15-11) with 14 kills during the championship match, as a matchup problem at the net for North Tama did not get corrected in time.
"I didn't adjust, I was taking my middle out there to block her and to make (Ankrom) hit the angle, but we didn't dig the angle well," said Upah. "In the second set we did put in a blocker, pulled our setter out and put in a blocker, but I should have done it sooner.
"We were missing one key blocker for that weak-side position so I just let it happen hoping we could dig, so there was probably a coaching error there on my part. It was nothing the girls did wrong."
Evidence that Upah's personnel and positioning changes paid off is the two teams' pool play pairing, which New Hampton dominated 21-9, 21-12.
"They instantly adjusted," Upah said, "and it worked. We played a great game, our girls are tough, they left it all here."
In the finals, middle hitter Shannon Stuart got moved to the outside, where she flourished for the Redhawks (15-13). She led the team with 10 kills, going 6-for-6 in the opening set, and also contributed three assist blocks.
Allie Zobel and Josie Youel both finished with eight kills and setter Aryn Isenhower totaled 21 assists. Sara Howard, thrust into the lineup to replace Stuart in the middle, had two blocks and two kills.
"We were just a lot stronger on the outside and we had better blocking because of that," Upah said of the change. "I feel great. I think we just saw our lineup to finish the season to go into regionals with, so I feel really good about today. I've seen what I need to see."
Isenhower led the Redhawks with 12 digs in the title match, Zobel had 11, and Anna Kvidera added eight. Isenhower also served 14-for-14 with two aces.
In the thrilling semifinal victory over BCLUW, Zobel led the Redhawks with 18 kills, Stuart had 14 and Youel 10. Isenhower had 34 assists and served 15-of-15 with two aces, while Zobel led with 19 digs. Shayla Kopriva served 10-for-10 and chipped in with four digs.
Tournament host BCLUW (9-18) swept through pool play with wins over East Marshall, Meskwaki Settlement and Manson-Northwest Webster. For the day, Reeba Box led the Comets with 22 kills, 27 digs and 30-for-31 serving with two aces.
Haley Veldhouse had 18 kills, Nicole Montgomery and Kendall Scurr both had 14 kills, and Olivia Callaway chipped in eight. Callaway led with 10 blocks, while Nicolette Simpson amassed 51 assists. Simpson also served 30-for-32 with two aces, while Sarah McCoy was 25-for-26 with five aces. McCoy contributed 18 digs and Mallory Vawter had 15.
East Marshall (4-15) defeated Manson-NW Webster and Meskwaki, both in three sets, and then fell to New Hampton in three games in the semifinals.
"And we could have easily taken that," said Mustangs head coach Jodi Hinegardner. "Tuesday, even though it was against Grundy Center, that was our worst game ever. By this point of the season you want to be clicking, and today I felt better. The girls were playing together and they can only get better when that happens."
Claire Johnson posted 29 kills and 11 blocks for East Marshall, while Katie Roseland added 20 kills, seven blocks and a team-best 61 digs. Callie Roseland added 11 kills and four blocks, and Meriel Leavy also made four blocks.
Ashley Allen had 50 assists and went a perfect 41-for-41 serving with four aces. Johnson was 35-for-40 with seven aces, and Callie Roseland was 37-for-40 with two aces. Sophia Grego stepped in and went 10-for-10 with two aces. Haley Long contributed 22 assists and Madisen Hinegardner had 55 digs.
West Marshall, which was without a number of starters because of a band function, finished 0-3 in pool play but rebounded to win the consolation finals against a familiar foe. The Trojans (20-13) faced off with Gladbrook-Reinbeck for the second time in the day, and for the third time this week, and scored a 25-14, 25-17 victory in both teams' tournament finale.
The Rebels and Trojans will meet in the first round of Class 2A Region 6 play on Oct. 17 in State Center.
McKenna Hotopp had 39 kills and Morgan Hopper 22 to lead the Trojans. Kaitlyn Nichols notched 18 kills and Maddie Streeter had 17. Both Hopper and Streeter had three blocks, while setter Alarie Craven totaled 88 assists.
Claire Underwood posted a team-best 31 digs while Hotopp added 29. Blair Bailey served 34-for-34 with three aces and Streeter was 25-for-25.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (13-17) was 2-3 on the day, led by Britney Keller's 27 kills and Shelton Hatch's 25 kills. Ellie Stoakes added 19 kills, Hayley Weber had 16 and Brooke Boyle 14. Boyle and Stoakes shared team-high honors with three blocks, while Jenny Schildroth accumulated 84 assists.
Erin Wentzien led the Rebels with 55 digs, Weber added 30 and Keller 25. Schildroth served 33-for-33 with three aces, and Hatch was 37-for-38 with five aces.
Meskwaki (3-20) finished 0-4 on the day.