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Redhawks downed by Cowgirls as seniors leave legacy

November 14, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

North Tama volleyball saw not only saw a historic season come to an end at the hands of Sidney 3-1 on Thursday, Nov. 14 at the State Volleyball Tournament, but it was also the end of an era as six seniors say goodbye after gifting the program its first win at State.

"It's insane these kids think about the program over themselves and it shows in their character," coach Channing Halstead said. "Just to hear that our All-Stater put the program ahead of herself is pretty cool. All these seniors are leaving a legacy. In our crowd, you'll see all these little girls who want to be Katie one day. I hope they take this character to heart."

Carlie Gorder, Katie Kopriva, Takoa Kopriva, Katelyn Kucera, Isabel Sierra and Grace Thorsen helped lead the Redhawks back to the State Volleyball Tournament after falling short last season in a shocking loss to Gladbrook-Reinbeck at home. Focused on their "Revenge Tour" in 2019, North Tama finished their regular season as Iowa Star South champions and made their way through the postseason to return to the U.S. Cellular Center with the Redhawk faithful in tow.

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The North Tama Redhawks finished as semifinalists in the State Volleyball Tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.

"The community has been a huge support to us," Isabel Sierra said. "When we were leaving, the gym was packed. The best support were our moms, who have done so much for us. They've cooked our team meals, decorated our cars, they've done so much for us."

The Redhawks achieved their own piece of school history by sweeping Gehlen Catholic on Wednesday. Yet the biggest challenge of all lie ahead when they were paired with Sidney, the number one team in Class 1A. The Cowgirls had won 36 games, led by senior Kelsey Hobbie and a deep defensive rotation. Tensions were high as the two teams battled in the first set, with the Cowgirls one step ahead after overcoming a 7-2 hole. The Redhawks would rally to keep the score close, yet fall 25-23.

"Sidney dug us out faster than we are used to and ran stuff really fast," Halstead said. "Both those things had us make adjustments, but ultimately it didn't work."

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Looking to even things up, Kopriva took control of the second set with a strong offensive display coupled along with Abby DeBoef. The two hitters led the Redhawks to a 25-16 win in perhaps North Tama's most astonishing set of the tournament.

"Both teams came out with a lot of energy and aggressiveness right away," Kopriva said. "In the end, it was the big runs by them that first set that really hurt us. In that second set, we started to fight back and get our energy level back up."

Sidney was ranked the top team in 1A for a majority of the season for a reason, however, and rallied back in the third set. The Redhawks struggled to put the ball down against the Cowgirl's defense. Attacking the middle, Sidney maintained a strong lead throughout to cruise to a 25-16 win of their own.

"Sidney was really kept in system and getting their middles going," Kopriva said. "We were out of system a lot. That felt like the biggest difference. When they went on runs, their confidence grew more."

Knowing their season was on the line, the Redhawks got off to a 7-2 start once more only to see it quickly chipped away by the Cowgirls. Errors kept the Redhawks down despite the best efforts of DeBoef and Kopriva offensively. Little could stop a confident Sidney team as they took the fourth set 25-17.

"Number six was hitting hard and made it difficult to stop," Sierra said. "We got down on ourselves. It was hard to keep them out of system."

DeBoef led the Redhawks offensively with 16 kills, followed by Kopriva with 15 kills and 18 digs. Sierra had 39 assists and eight digs in the loss.

"We've had our highs and lows this season, yet it's been fun to see them do their best mentally here in the tournament," Halstead said. "They obviously wanted more, but to finish top four in the State is literally second best to making the finals. We stayed aggressive to the very end and that's all I can ask for."

The Redhawks finished season 27-7, the second most wins in school history behind the 2017 State team. Katie Kopriva ends her career as a Redhawk as the school leader in career kills. Her cousin, Takoa, also will be immortalized as the all-time leader in digs and Sierra all-time in assists with her performance in the State tournament. However, the biggest thing on their minds is the program itself.

"I'm super proud of this season despite not making our goal of being State champions," Sierra said. "This is a huge accomplishment to make State and I'm happy to be a part of this team. It's a huge statement to win our first round."

"I'm very proud of what we accomplished this year because we made history at North Tama," Kopriva said. "Getting our first win at State is a great feeling and something I'll never forget it. To have all the players, not just the seniors, step up and not play nervous is great."

An emotional Halstead was overwhelmed to hear such comments and believes this is what younger volleyball fans watching should truly note if they wish to be successful.

"I didn't know what to say after that match, but the first thing they said is 'we can't wait to come back and watch you next year,'" Halstead said. "They've set the culture as a program. I'm living the dream I've always wanted because of them."

The Class of 2020 has been playing volleyball together since fifth grade and have set multiple standards for North Tama volleyball going forward. North Tama cabinets are not bare for next season as DeBoef returns next season

"Abby was huge for us tonight," Halstead said. "It was fun to see her confidence skyrocket in this tournament and it should. She led us in kills, which hasn't happened all season. I hope that confidence continues into next season because she'll have to take on a bigger offensive load. This is a sign she's willing to do for us."

The Redhawks will also have Alexis Hansen back as a middle, along with defensive specialists in Aubree Monat and Lainey Willenbring to build a young core up for the next era of North Tama volleyball. North Tama will also look to Jade Rausch as their next setter and Shae Ewoldt for hitting in 2020 and beyond.

"It's hard to say no to the energy the younger players have," Halstead said. "The biggest respect they can pay to the seniors is to try to carry on the tradition we've set."

Tears were plenty and comforting hugs in demand after the loss as the Redhawks said their goodbyes to the State tournament. Their hope is it would be long before they say hello once again.

"The younger generations will see this season as motivation to get back here to State and do even more damage," Kopriva said. "Channing told us we have nothing to be ashamed of and the seniors have done a lot for this program. North Tama will continue to work hard in the offseason to get back here."



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