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Redhawks set sights on second State berth

August 23, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

The North Tama Redhawks volleyball team achieved its best season in school history in 2017, finishing with a school-record 29 wins and punching their ticket to the State Tournament for the first time ever. With expectations abound in 2018, the Redhawks will compete to return to Cedar Rapids for the second year in a row.

"Coming into last season, we knew we had the skill set to be successful, but it was more or less figuring out how it was all going to work together and deciding we didn't want to be mediocre," fifth year coach Channing Halstead said. "Once we went out and had a couple of good weekends to start out, we gained confidence and never looked back."

That confidence led the Redhawks over Montezuma at Districts after finding themselves down two sets to rally over the Braves and then decimating Coon Rapids-Bayard on Halloween night to qualify of State.

Article Photos

Front row: Grace Thorsen, Isabella Sierra, Takoa Kopriva, Karly Jans, Carissa Calderwood, Katie Kopriva, Carlie Gorder, Katelyn Kucera. Middle row: Aubree Monat, Kirstan Jans, Trinity Freeman, Head Coach Channing Halstead, Kaitlyn Calderwood, Andi Dvorak, Jules Breakenridge. Back row: Abby DeBoef, Mya Sierra, Dylan Rohlfsen, Asst Coach Matt Walston, Asst Coach Karisa Kladivo, Madison Stoneking, Molly Vogeler, Alexis Hansen.

"I felt pure excitement and couldn't believe it," senior Karly Jans said. "It was the first time in school history. It had been my dream since I was little to go to State for volleyball."

That dream lasted one game as the Redhawks fell 0-3 to state semi-finalist Springville. Despite playing out of character at first, Halstead believed her squad was more than capable of winning and found herself encouraged by her team's response to the heartbreaking loss.

"We didn't play terrible over their last year, but we did play a bit timid," Halstead said. "Literally when we lost at State, Katie Kopriva came up and said 'we are getting back here and we are doing more. There wasn't any type of letdown or anyone saying 'this won't happen again.' Ever since that game, they have wanted more. That shows maturity. This winter, they played 13 dates together as a team. We beat teams we shouldn't have per say."

North Tama lost middle hitter Lydia Schafer and Andrea Ubben to graduation, but return all other starters and key contributors from last season's team. Taking up the senior leadership this season are Carissa Calderwood and Jans, two key players to the Redhawk's recent success. Calderwood, an Iowa Star Conference Honorable Mention in 2017, was successful on 113 of her 128 serves (.883), punched in 12 aces and rallied on defense with 163 digs on the season. Calderwood will have to potentially wait two weeks to play because of an injury, but certainly will have a major role again this season.

"Coming off of injury, Carissa is a solid left back row player and our vocal leader," Halstead said. "She was honorable mention last year, so it's not like she's not just any other player. She's had a strong summer and I hope that continues into the summer.

Jans, a 1st Team Iowa Star Conference selection, proved to be North Tama's second major offensive threat, posting 325 kills last season, successful on 121 of her 137 serves (.883) and also contributed defensively with 18 solo blocks and 91 digs in 2017. Over the offseason, Jans has been working on blocking and tip ins to expand her offensive game.

"Karly is a power hitter and go over a lot of people to put the ball down, but playing at that higher level she can't always do that," Halstead said. "She has improved her hitting angles and added sharp shots. One thing that's clicked with her is to let us play defense if we're in trouble and send it over so we can do that. You'll also see her play some back row this season."

The Redhawks' deepest class comes from its juniors, three of whom were selected for conference and state honors last season. Leading the way for North Tama offensively is Katie Kopriva, an Elite Iowa Star Conference Elite selection, 1st Team south division selection, 2nd Team All-State by the Iowa Girls Coaching Association and 1A 1st Team All-State by the Des Moines Register. Katie broke out last season with 464 kills, 352 successful services on 366 attempts (.962), 48 aces, 26 assists and on defense had 226 digs and 36 solo blocks. With that success, Kopriva knows more teams will come after her and the Redhawks this season.

"I'd definitely say there's more pressure on us and we now have a target out our backs," Kopriva said. "We were the underdogs last year and came up under the radar. Now, we need to be ready for teams that want to beat us."

Leading the stingy Redhawk defense is libero Tako Kopriva, a 1st Team Iowa Star Conference south division selection and the team's leaders in digs last season with 480. Takoa was second on the squad with 32 assists and led in serving with 362 successful serves on 373 attempts (.971). Alongside her in the back row is the orchestrator of the Redhawks offense, Isabel Sierra, a 2nd Team south division selection. The junior setter dished out 818 assists in 2017 to lead her team by a enormous margin. In addition, she had 276 successful serves on 294 attempts (.939).

The 2018 will also see more minutes for juniors including Carlie Gorder-32 kills and 5 blocks in 2017-and Katelyn Kucera-328 successful serves on 369 attempts (.883) and lead the team with 48 aces in 2017. According to Halstead, Gordon will run slides for the offense and further add to the growing Redhawk arsenal.

"Carlie will score a lot by running behind the center, something that is not traditional of a lot of teams," Halstead said. "She will help tremendously because she'll take pressure off of Katie and Karly."

Another impact junior this season is Grace Thorsen, a transfer from Crystal Lake Central in the Chicago Suburban area but originally from the Traer area. Thorsen, like her other classmates, learned under Halstead in her fifth and sixth grade years before moving and playing larger schools in addition to club volleyball. An athletic setter, Thorsen and Sierra will be used in different situations for different looks, a luxury North Tama did not have last season.

"Isabel is more of a back row setter like we've done in the past and Grace is a front row setter that provides more athleticism at the net," Halstead said. "However, Isabel has been setting Katie longer and gets the ball to her better, which works well with some of my plans. Grace has a wicked serve that adds to our arsenal. They both have their different qualities and skill sets, so their playing time will depend on what we need and when. It's about if we need speed vs finesse, defense vs front row. You won't see them together often."

Even with all the talent in last year's sophomore and junior classes, Abby DeBoef was able to carve out a consistent role in her freshman year, playing in all 99 sets and recording 89 kills for third on the team, 52 digs and 8 blocks in 2017.

"If I had to pick the most improved player, it would be Abby," Halstead said. "She's coming into this season with more firepower, but needed to work on her defense. It's not perfect, but it has gotten better. She can swing with the best of them. We were playing Union over the summer and coach Barry Jesse over their asked me if she was a new freshman and I had to explain she played last year. He didn't even recognize her as a player, so other coaches are noticing."

Also entering her sophomore year is Dylan Rohlfsen, serving 75 on 79 attempts in 28 sets. Madison Stoneking will play some back row and serve, according to Halstead. With Schafer graduated, Alexis Hansen will be utilized in the front row this season as a middle blocker in her sophomore year.

"Lydia and Alexis are the same height, but Alexis is a little more quiet as Lydia was our positive, vocal leader last season," Halstead said. "She provides a lot of positive aspects herself. Alexis a very good blocker to fill that void left by Lydia and is really high when she attacks with power or tips. We expect a lot out of her the next few years."

Rounding out the varsity roster will be freshman Kaitlyn Calderwood and Aubree Monat from another strong freshman class. Due to the sheer numbers of the sophomore and upperclassmen, however, minutes will be limited.

"You'll see some of our underclassmen come in periodically for serving roles," Halstead said. "Kaitlyn is another defensive specialist that will help us with her scrappiness. Aubree Monat will come in serving and play when Takoa is out. Dylan Rohlfsen served some last year and will do more of that this season. It will all depend on what I need on the court at that moment."

While known as a defensive team, growth has been made North Tama expand their offensive repertoire with Gorder, DeBoef and Thorsen more involved.

"This summer has been about figuring out where Grace can work into the system because she will help us this season," Halstead said. "With our attacking, we are making sure we're not just swinging straight all the time. We have power, but we're adding more brains behind it and people will see it immediately."

Despite advances in their offense and returning a vast majority of their roster plus Thorsen, the team knows they have some improving to do over the season.

"Picking up tips and blocks are what we are worst at, so we've really been working on those," Kopriva said. "I'd say personally I've been working on my defense in both those areas. My goal is to bring up my hitting efficiency. It would be hard to get as many kills as last year, but being more efficient would be great."

Improvement comes easier when teammates know and like each other, getting along on and off the court. Most of the girls have been playing with each other since fifth grade under Halstead and with last year's success comes a hungry to stay focused on getting back to State.

"It's great to come to practice every day and being part of a family," Jans said. "We work hard every day to make ourselves better. "Teams will play harder against us this season and they will have more motivation to beat us. We know we can still beat them all."

Conference rival Janesville will remain a tough opponent to beat, even playing in Traer this season. Tripoli will also be another notable conference opponent along with their tournament schedule against larger schools.

"We're handling the expectations by focusing on our mental toughness," Halstead said. "It helps that the girls are excited about the challenges as opposed to last year being a bit nervous at first. We're excited to get Janesville on our home court we might have been worried about two years ago, excited about a triangular at Tripoli and getting to the finals in these bigger tournaments. They like to play competitive teams and be challenged, which I believe brings out the best in them."

The Redhawks will open their season with a tournament on Saturday, August 25 at Meskwaki that will feature Ankeny Christian, Belle Plaine, Colo-Nesco, Denver, Roland-Story, Vinton-Shellsburg and host Meskwaki. The girls then return home on Monday, August 27 as they host South Hardin.



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