BELLE PLAINE - When Claude Howard took over the reins of the Springville volleyball program, he wanted to instill a culture of winning and a mind-set that anything is possible through hard work.
Now, seven years later, Howard’s success with the Oriole program is undeniable as he’s guided the program to three state tournaments in the last four years and regularly has Springville among the top teams not only in the Tri-Rivers Conference, but in all of eastern Iowa, regardless of class.
But, according to many, this 2019 Oriole volleyball team wasn’t supposed to be able to achieve all those lofty dreams of state tournament berths. They were just plain and simple too young.
Don’t tell that to Howard and the Springville girls however, who shocked many, not including themselves, with a huge 25-22, 27-25, 25-17 triumph over a heavily favored and talented Belle Plaine team Tuesday, Oct. 31, in a class 1A regional semi-final match.
“Belle Plaine, who was 27-12 entering their home court against us was supposed to win with their big swing outside hitter Nicholaa Phillipe, and upstart middle hitter Alyssa Tegeler,” said Howard, as the Orioles not only defended the talented Plainsmen duo well, but added plenty of offense of their own from a bevy of hitters.
“We knew they would be a tough match-up in some rotations because of our 5-foot, 5-inch setter in the front row and 6-0 Tegeler matched with our 5-8 middle. We received film on Belle Plaine (BP) and simulated a strong outside swing and tall middle in practices leading up to this game. We knew by the game stats over the past several games for BP that those two hitters were going to get the ball all night, as they made up more than 60-percent of the offense throughout the season, and even more over the past 10 games, including regionals.”
Springville (19-16) just would not allow the Plainsmen any breathing room throughout the three-set sweep, even after the hosts scored the game’s first point thanks to an Oriole hitting error, the visitors just kept coming back and the bigger the points got, the better the Springville girls got.
“I credit our young team for growing up quickly over the past couple of weeks,” Howard said. “They have absorbed game plans and more importantly executed those plans much better during this regional run.
“More importantly, our team has played with some real grit lately, ensuring wins. They have been down and behind but they push through as a team to be successful.”
Which is precisely what they did against Belle Plaine. Every time the Plainsmen made a run, the Orioles had an answer, and in every single set.
After Springville got off to a solid first set start, taking an 8-1 lead, Belle Plaine went on a run and took a 16-12 advantage before the Orioles rallied again scoring five of the set’s next six points to take an 18-17 lead.
After consecutive kills from Savannah Nealman, Lily Clark and Morgan Nachazel, the Orioles had Belle Plaine fans in shock holding a 21-18 edge.
And they wouldn’t lose it.
Clark and Nachazel powered down huge kills and the Orioles took advantage of a Belle Plaine serving error to end the first set with the 25-22 triumph.
The second set again saw Springville get off to a quick start, leading 6-1 before another Plainsman run but the hosts ahead 17-16.
Once again, when their backs were against the wall and the home crowd was cheering their loudest, it was the Orioles who responded.
Clark swatted back a block for a Springville point that handed the visitors a 20-19 lead and after a Clark kill knotted the score at 21-21, the Orioles went to work and led 24-22, but again Belle Plaine rallied knotting the score at 24-24 and forcing extra points.
After the hosts scored on a kill that brought the home crowd to their feet, giving Belle Plaine a 25-24 lead, Nachazel answered with a huge one of her own to knot the score before a pair of Plainsmen errors allowed Springville to escape with a wild 27-25 triumph.
The Orioles looked to complete the sweep in the third set and again, for the third straight time, jumped all over the hosts taking an 8-1 lead and this time would never trail in rolling to the eight-point match-ending victory.
Belle Plaine closed to within one point (12-11) on one occasion, but after kills from Lauren Wilson, Nachazel and Molly Stamp, the Orioles restored order, and breathing room leading 16-11 and never looked back.
“I am hoping that our tough schedule this year and the mental toughness required to be where we are proves to be worth the battles when we play Lisbon (in the class 1A regional championship) on Tuesday (Nov. 5),” Howard said. “This will be our fifth regional finals in the seven years I have been head coach at Springville, and this one really has felt like my favorite. These kids have been fantastic to coach. Hoping to get at least one more win this year.”
A Nachazel kill closed out the match for the Orioles as the team celebrated on the floor and then celebrated with their huge following of fans, tossing out Halloween candy.
Nachazel, Wilson and Nealman all led a very balanced Springville offense coming through with seven kills each while Clark and Nia Howard added five more each. Stamp chipped in with four kills while also adding two blocks.
Wilson added three blocks for the defense while Howard set 30 assists.
Grace Matus had another big night in the Oriole back row coming up with 24 digs while Nealman chipped in with 14 more.
Nachazel was as sensational from the service line as she was at the net going a perfect 23-of-23 with a team-best four aces. Kennady Breitfelder added a 13-for-13 night with two more aces as the team finished the night going 72-of-72 overall at the line, a stark contrast to the Plainsmen who made eight service errors, several coming on key points in the match.