NEWTON — A year ago, the brave young Redhawks were a year ahead of the schedule, rushing into the Class 1A state volleyball semifinals with double-digit losses and an upset victory in the first round.
Now No. 2 North Tama is right on time.
The Redhawks rolled Southeastern Warren in straight sets to advance to the 1A State Tournament for the third time in the past four seasons, dealing with the unranked Warhawks 25-20, 25-12, 25 -17 in Wednesday’s Region 4 Finals at Newton High. School.
It’s North Tama’s fourth trip to the state in six years since their maiden trip in 2017, all under head coach Channing Halstead, and it’s exactly where the Redhawks are supposed to be. A year after flying under the radar and passing No. 2 Le Mars Gehlen Catholic in the 1A Quarterfinals, all expectations that come with most of a state-savvy roster to return to the Finals have been met.
“Last year we were so excited to play, so excited about the opportunity, and this year they were maybe a little more nervous and it’s a totally different approach,” Halstead said. “All season this year you take a loss and we’re at No. 1, so these girls have had to come out with that pressure, just the pressure to perform, and I don’t know if we got used to it but we got on. is busy with it.
“They were just waiting for this moment for this feeling and they deserve it, 100 per cent.”
Senior outside hitter Shae Ewoldt had 15 kills, senior middle hitter Breanna Sebetka had 11 kills, and senior outside hitter Lainey Willenbring had 10 kills as North Tama’s offensive balance was too much to bear for Southeast Warren. The Warhawks (31-15) didn’t register a block at net and barely offered one where the Redhawks (39-4) mounted their offense.
Ewoldt and Willenbring had free antenna swings and were very successful because of it, as Ewoldt hit 0.520 for the night and Willenbring was at 0.292. The Redhawks faced a little more resistance in the middle, where Warren’s southeast star Alicia Ruble was hiding, but Sebetka (.333) and sophomore Briar Blake (six kills, .200) held off. both had great success with their swings.
As a team, North Tama hit .302 as senior setter Jadyn Rausch had 37 assists to go along with her five kills.
Nothing was stopping the Redhawks that night, but they still celebrated the victory with emotion and appreciation.
“It’s honestly so hard to explain,” Ewoldt said. “All the emotions are just mixed into one, but in a good way. My chest is so tight, almost to the point that I can’t breathe, but it’s so relieving when it finally happens.
“Last year we came in as underdogs, we had nothing to lose, so we were just having fun with it. But this year, we had to live up to those expectations and maintain it, so it It was a lot more pressure, but we still managed.
North Tama ran into a lot of trouble throughout the night, as Southeast Warren’s aggressive serve sent the Redhawks down the back line and made it harder for Rausch to pass on point. The Warhawks led 15-12 midway through the first set before North Tama scored seven of the next eight points behind Ewoldt’s four kills and a block. Grace Kennedy added an ace to end the run that returned the momentum in North Tama’s favor for essentially the rest of the night.
The Redhawks used their best run of the night, a six-point surge in the second set, to take a 19-9 lead. Sebetka had back-to-back wins, as did Willenbring, and Rausch added a block and a kill to spark the rally.
Ewoldt eventually ended the set with a thunderous kill down the line, and game three was more or less the same. Southeastern Warren resisted, but it was in vain.
Ruble led the Warhawks with 11 eliminations but was the only player on her team with more than three.
Kylie Calderwood served 17-for-17 with two aces to lead North Tama, while Willenbring was 13-for-13 with an ace. Kennedy was 10 for 11 with two aces, and Addison Hochstetler was 10 for 11. Sebetka led the defense with three blocks and Ewoldt had two, while Hochstetler led 20 digs.
North Tama enters the 1A State Tournament as the No. 2 seed and will face the No. 7 AGWSR (18-23) in the quarterfinals on Tuesday at Xtream Arena in Coralville. The 14th-ranked Cougars swept No. 6 Newell-Fonda to advance for the first time since reaching the 1A Finals in 2008.
The potential exists for the Redhawks to come up against neighbors and rivals Gladbrook-Reinbeck as the No. 4-ranked Rebels were given the third seed for the state and face Catholic No. 6 Holy Trinity in the opposite slice.
“It’s crazy when you say three out of four, I never thought of it that way,” Halstead said. “I can’t wait to go check my phone and see all the oldies watching too. I’m grateful for stuff like that because these girls wouldn’t be where they are without them either.
“I think it’s safe to say that we have a volleyball program and we’re building a tradition. Tradition is a very heavy word, but hopefully we’ll get there.