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Redhawks break from past to return to State tournament

November 6, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

For a full year, the returning players for North Tama volleyball had a monkey on their back. Their loss to Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the Regional semis in 2018 abruptly ended a promising season for a program eager to return to the State tournament after their first berth in 2017.

"G-R was doing everything right and we were doing everything wrong in that ," Katie Kopriva said. "We had to come back next season and focus on our game."

After sweeping Collins-Maxwell and Montezuma at home, the Redhawks found themselves in a situation to finally rid themselves of that "monkey" in a Regional final contest. Grand View Christian had the height and athleticism to climb their way through the Regional and upset ranked BCLUW in Conrad last week to reach the final match against North Tama. Winner went to State, loser saw their season end.

Article Photos

Ticket punched. The North Tama Redhawks are returning to the State Volleyball Tournament on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Despite some nerves, the Redhawks were not ready to end their season outside of playing in the US Cellular Center for the second year in a row with the lineup they had. North Tama rose up from their errors to take the match over Grand View Christian 3-1 to advance to the State tournament, throwing the monkey off their backs permanently.

"I'm feeling super excited right now for my team that we are finally going back to State," Katie said. "All of our hard work over the summer and winter has truly paid off."

Against nature itself, the Thunder of Grand View Christian indeed came first, taking a 8-3 early and maintaining a four-point throughout much of the first set. It wouldn't be until the closing moments that Katie would come alive for three straight points to help the Redhawks take a late lead and eventually the match 25-23.

"This atmosphere and big gym had to do with our nerves," Katie said. "We wanted this shot at State and we gave it all we got."

The Thunder would not settle as they came back crash with a 25-20 win, taking advantage of Redhawk miscommunications and attacking gaps in the defense.

"[Grand View] was definitely playing their best game while we were getting nervous and shaky with errors," Takoa Kopriva said. "As a leader, I tried to talk between every point, follow the ball to the line and help direct our hitters."

Yet leadership wasn't the main issue according to coach Channing Halstead. Serving wasn't accomplishing its goal of disrupting Grand View's passing. Hitting was not aggressive at first. Passion, according to Halstead, was missing. That passion came back as the Redhawks answered with a 25-21 win in the fourth set to gain a 2-1 advantage.

"I ask them 'why do you do this and why are you here?' and we eventually found that again," Halstead said. "Once we found those answers, we got our groove back and were ready to go."

All it took to get back in system was a little bit of tough love, according to Katie.

"She was pretty much telling us to stop screwing around and get ourselves together," Katie said. "Honestly, that helps us play better when she gets on us. There's times you have to be positive with someone and times you need someone to get their head out of their butts."

As passing improved for Redhawks, they were able to throw different looks at the Thunder, including setting middle hitting for Alexis Hansen and continuing to give Katie good looks. Blocking improved courtesy of Carlie Gorder.

"They did have size to throw us off," Halstead said. "This huge gym is a lot different than our teeny-tiny gym back home. Once we got over the size of team and around the court, we played into the advantage of more errors."

The Redhawks got off to a 9-2 start in the fourth set and essentially never looked back. For the first time all night, North Tama was able to maintain their lead in large part to Katie continuing to find success offensively. At times this season, relying on the senior wasn't an option as she sprained her ankle in a tournament at Waterloo.

"When I first sprained my ankle, I hoped to God nothing was broken," Katie said. "When I knew it was a sprain, I decided I'm coming back. I didn't care how much it hurt. I knew I would be back and I would be playing."

Katie would have the final point for the Redhawks, finishing with 22 kills, 13 digs, 13 of 15 serving with a team-high three aces.

"There's more emotion with this win this time around because it's our final time," Katie said. "That upset really hurt us last year. All those workouts have paid off and we're right back where we want to be. That last point doesn't matter much because it's more about the team I'm proud to be a part of."

Celebration took over the court as the Redhawks moved away from their past shortcomings to punch their ticket to the 2019 State Volleyball Tournament in Cedar Rapids under the lights of the US Cellular Center. While the initial thought may be to look back to the 2017 year, yet much has changed since then. Primarily, those sophomores are now seniors ready to make the most of their postseason.

"Two years ago, we were sophomores excited and having fun," Takoa said. "This year, we had more expectations in going for our goal to State. We really pushed because we're all older and more experienced now. Everyone brought their best game against us and we had to do our best as well."

Takoa finished with 38 digs in the win over Grand View Christian, cementing her position as the heartbeat of the North Tama defense.

"I kept looking at film on Grand View and kept telling myself 'they don't have a Takoa,'" Halstead said. "As I watched her in the third set, I told her to do her thing. She was the reason we came back."

The Redhawks (26-6) will enter the State tournament as a five seed and face off against Gehlen Catholic (25-7) on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 8:00 p.m. The goal: win their first State game as a program and then prepare for the next game.

"I hope we play well into next week," Halstead said. "These six seniors were my first group of fifth graders. Everyone in town and all their opponents know them. This is everything to me and these girls. All the time we've put in together is for this experience. I'm so glad I have this moment with these girls."



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