Just three days after escaping with an opening round, five-set victory, South Tama's volleyball squad ran into annual powerhouse Mount Vernon at home Thursday.
The Mustangs proved why they were state qualifiers four consecutive years from 2007-2010 as they swept South Tama in three sets. STC hung close in the first two sets, but all of the momentum swung the way of the Mustangs in the third set, as they won ( 25-20, 25-20 and 25-14) and knocked STC out of the Class 3A Region 7 semifinals.
"I thought we played pretty well," STC coach Michelle Bradley said. "I'm not disappointed or anything tonight. I was proud of how our girls played."
The Trojans finished the season 15-14, which is one win better than the 2011 season, after losing a handful of seniors from last year's roster. Thursday's match was the final one for senior Shelby Bradley, Riley Craun and Jade Rohach in an STC uniform.
"It's really hard on our three seniors," coach Bradley said. "As emotional as it is, we have to keep going and know there will be better days."
The Trojans hung tough against the 10th-ranked Mustangs during the first two sets. Each time the Trojans had a chance to take a lead or make a big run, Mount Vernon took back control of the match.
"They are very scrappy," coach Bradley said. "They can get to a lot of balls. I thought we stayed aggressive, but they were digging up what we threw at them."
South Tama stood toe-to-toe with Mount Vernon throughout the first two sets. STC led the opening game 14-13 after back-to-back kills by junior Paige Van Dyk and Rohach, but Mustangs middle hitter Hannah Whitley converted a tip on a slide attack over the same two Trojans' double block, and Mount Vernon made off with the next six points as well.
South Tama fought back to within 24-20 with a pair of kills by junior Trisha Walz, but a kill from the middle by Alli Platte put the first set to bed, 25-20.
"They had a good attack," coach Bradley said. "We saw most of it on tape, so we practiced different kinds of blocking to get to that."
The Trojans started off the second set leading the Mustangs. A kill from Walz and a powerful kill from Rohach ignited the home crowd and helped South Tama build a quick 3-1 lead. However, Mount Vernon silenced the crowd with a 5-0 run and took a 6-3 lead.
Mount Vernon later made a 4-0 run and a 3-0 run in the set, but the Trojans remained within striking distance. They trailed 2-14 before starting another late rally. Rohach and Walz got the Trojans to within 23-20, but an ill-timed service error for STC and a finishing kill by Mount Vernon's Chelsey Schirm staked the Mustangs to a 2-0 lead.
"They gave us the line," coach Bradley said. "We talked in practice that it was going to be line all day. The problem was we couldn't get a pass to get that out there and give our girls a chance to hit down the line.
"We usually have a pretty decent back row attack," she said. "If we don't get that perfect pass, we always have that option. Things just weren't rolling our way tonight."
The third set started as an uphill battle for South Tama as it fell behind 5-1, and it seemed to wear down the Trojans emotionally. Only twice during the entire game did STC score two points or more consecutively, as Mount Vernon's solid back-row play gave the Mustangs ample opportunities on offense.
Kills from junior Samantha Holtz and Rohach helped the Trojans pull to within four points at 16-12, but Mount Vernon scored nine of the final 11 points.
The Mustangs balanced and efficient attack came through for them, putting them in Tuesday's regional final against No. 8 West Liberty (28-9) at Cedar Rapids Prairie.
"They would separate themselves from us," coach Bradley said. "Then we'd make a small run again and they would, too. We'd have some tiny mistakes and missed serves."
South Tama's coach had nothing but positive remarks about the Mustangs.
"She did play well," Bradley said of the Mustangs' setter. "The tape that we saw, she didn't do a lot of dumping, so we didn't try to anticipate that much. Then it started happening and we had to make the adjustment. Sometimes we were there and sometimes we weren't."
S. Bradley accounted for South Tama's only two service aces. She also led with 14 assists while junior Madison Baack tallied 11.
Libero player Craun came up with 14 digs to lead the Trojans, Rohach had 12, Walz nine and Holtz had eight.
Walz also paced the STC attack with 10 kills while Holtz and Rohach both notched seven.
Van Dyk accounted for three kills and junior Emily Martin added two, but Mount Vernon's ever-present block and steady defense didn't let the Trojans get it going.
"We were on a rollercoaster all year," Bradley said. "We were one win better than last year, so we're getting better and we had a lot of seniors last year most of our starting lineup."