VINTON - The encouraging part was that it couldn't have gotten any worse for the Redhawks. The frustrating part was that it took the entire first game to wake up.
By the time the North Tama volleyball team came around and started playing its game, defending state semifinalist Springville was already too far ahead.
The Orioles picked apart an error-plagued North Tama squad in Friday night's Class 1A Region 7 semifinal at Vinton-Shellsburg High School, scoring a three-game sweep over the Redhawks to advance within one win of a return trip to the state tournament.
North Tama, saying so long to seven seniors, struggled from the opening serve and suffered its season-ending defeat, 25-10, 25-21, 25-16.
Springville (23-12) will face No. 5 Don Bosco in Tuesday's regional final in Vinton. The Dons (24-9) routed Preston in their semifinal Friday night in Cedar Rapids, 25-9, 25-12, 25-12.
"We basically just beat ourselves in that first game," said North Tama head coach Molly Clubb, citing her team's eight swinging errors and two missed serves. "In the timeouts we were just trying to get them to relax and play the game that they've known how to play all year. It was not as much about Xs and Os as it was about getting them to get their heads back in it, to stop taking themselves out of it."
The Redhawks (27-13) were never in the first game. Springville scored the first four points (on three North Tama attack errors and one ace serve) and used a 9-0 run to go ahead 15-2. Another lengthy 7-0 run sent the Orioles to a 24-7 lead and eventually the game one win.
North Tama scored the first two points of game two, breaking out of its shell with the same sort of solid play that helped get the team this far. Kelsey Upah had a pair of kills and Erin Herink added a block as the Redhawks snuck out to an early lead.
A 5-0 run served up by Upah included a pair of aces and kills by Alex Oletski and Nora Seda, and North Tama had a 9-6 lead.
That, however, would match the Redhawks' largest lead of the night. An 8-1 run gave Springville a 21-17 lead and eventually the game-two triumph.
North Tama fell behind early in the third game but got back in it with a pair of soft hits by Oletski that found the floor. Amanda Howard's successful attack made it 8-all, to which Springville responded with a 7-0 run. Orioles junior Katie Wyman, one of only two players who saw court time on last year's state semifinalist, had three service aces during the spurt, and North Tama couldn't get closer than six points the rest of the way.
Springville's quick attacks, both in the middle and on the outside, proved too fast for the Redhawk blockers to cope with.
"Our goal is to control the tempo, and we really like to play up-tempo," said Springville head coach Gretchen Eastman. "We just wanted to take care of our side of the net and, on the whole, I thought we served well.
"North Tama gave us a few points and they missed some serves at key times I thought. The film we watched of theirs from (Tuesday) night, they could do no wrong. The big thing was that we had some success early and that gave us some confidence, and volleyball is like that."
Middle hitter Maggie Ray led Springville with 11 kills and four blocks, and Lyman finished with seven kills and one block. Wyman and CJ Fitzgerald both had three aces, and setter Karlee Markey had 23 assists. Springville served 70-for-73 with seven aces.
North Tama's offense never really got on track as every player had trouble finding their swing. The Redhawks would wind up with 21 attack errors, six service errors and four net violations among their struggles.
Upah led North Tama with eight kills, Howard had seven, and five apiece for Herink and Oletski. Senior setter Amanda Hoeg ended up with 17 assists and senior Libero player Morgan Halupnick tallied seven digs to lead the Redhawks.
"It was never a question of if they wanted it or not, I think it was just a question of the pressure getting to them at that level," said Clubb. "I think we were just a little bit out of our system tonight, I think that's the only way to say it.
"With any playoff game it's hard not to let yourself start thinking 'this might be my last game,' rather than 'hey, let's win.' So I think that might have started to widen the game a little bit in the third game, especially with as many seniors as we have."
Merissa Fox, Lucille Howard, Hoeg, Oletski, Seda, Upah and Halupnick dressed in North Tama red for the final time for Coach Clubb, who thanked them after the match for their service to the program and the community.
"I've said this a couple times, hands down this group of girls is the most outstanding group of not only athletes and volleyball players but just all-around good kids," Clubb said. "They're smart, they are smart about volleyball, they play because they love the game and they want to be here. And as a coach you can't ask for anything more than that.
"I'm going to miss them a lot."