CEDAR RAPIDS - When they’ve been able to field a full team this season, the Springville girls have proven to be one of the best volleyball teams in the state of Iowa.
Injuries, however, have taken a toll on the Orioles during their 2020 journey, but nothing could compare to what the team had to deal with opening the class 1A state tournament at the Alliant Energy Powerhouse in Cedar Rapids Tuesday, Nov. 3.
“We were all messed up and confused missing two key players,” said Oriole sophomore Kennady Breitfelder, as seventh-ranked and fifth-seeded Springville, playing without shot-blocking star Lily Clark and libero standout Grace Matus, saw their amazing 2020 run come to a quick close with a stunning 9-25, 24-26, 11-25 defeat against fourth-ranked and fourth-seeded Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the 1A quarter-final round.
“We just didn’t have what we needed to compete against a team like Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and it’s tough to lose that way. If we’re all full strength, who knows what happens in this match, but we’re happy we made it here to the state tournament. That’s a great accomplishment. We just wanted to be able to stick around and play a little longer though. We feel we had a team good enough to go all the way.”
Clark and Matus were forced to miss the state contest due to COVID quarantining, though neither actually has the virus.
“We knew Friday we wouldn’t have Lily and found out Monday about Grace,” said Oriole volleyball coach Claude Howard, as his team struggled through much of the match without the pair.
“We made some errors out there and we couldn’t get over them, and it played like that into the third set. We’ve got a good team, but we’ve got to learn to win here. We can’t give teams easy balls and expect to control the match.”
Without one of their top defenders (Clark) and back row (Matus) players, the Orioles actually got off to a solid start in the pressure-filled quarter-final match, taking a 3-1 lead in the first set thanks to a pair of kills from Lauren Wilson. After the Rebels rallied to knot the score at 3-3, Breitfelder slammed down a kill and put Springville back on top 4-3.
It would be the last time Springville would see the lead for quite some time. But that didn’t stop the Orioles from continuing to battle.
Falling into a 10-5 hole after Gladbrook-Reinbeck went on a 7-1 run, Howard called timeout to try and slow some of the Rebels’ momentum.
It didn’t work.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck continued to hammer down kills offensively led by Sari Kuehl, who totaled 19 kills in the match on 46 attacks as the Rebels used a 15-3 run to close the set with the lopsided 25-9 victory.
How would Springville respond to such a tough set-one loss?
Like the battle-hardened team they are.
“In that second set we had our chances to win and just couldn’t quite close it out,” said Oriole sophomore Nia Howard, who set 20 assists in the match.
“We knew we were better than what we showed in that first set and knew we could battle with them, and we did that in the second.”
Early on however, it appeared the second set was going to be much like the first, as Gladbrook-Reinbeck jumped to a quick 8-3 advantage before a pair of Molly Stamp kills swung momentum back to the Orioles.
After a Breitfelder kill and an ensuing Rebel hitting error, the score was tied at 10-10 forcing Gladbrook-Reinbeck coach Paula Kelley to call a timeout.
Her team responded retaking the lead, but Springville continued to stay within striking distance, and with the match sitting in the balance trailing 19-16, the Orioles made their move.
Stamp, Morgan Nachazel, Breitfelder and Wilson sparked a run as Springville took a 23-21 lead, forcing the Rebels to call another timeout.
After a Gladbrook-Reinbeck hitting error put the Orioles a point away from winning the set, a Springville error and Rebel kill knotted the score at 24-24, which had Howard calling a timeout.
The final two points would go Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s way, including a controversial error called on the Orioles that handed the Rebels the game-winning point.
Having their hearts broken in such a gut-wrenching second set, it was tough for the Springville girls to emotionally battle back in the third falling into an early 13-0 hole to start.
“We were happy about the way we played that second set and wanted to win it so badly, but it just seemed like we didn’t have a whole lot left in the third,” Nia Howard said. “We didn’t want it to end like that.”
Several Rebel hitting errors finally allowed the Orioles to get on the scoreboard in the third set before Savannah Nealman slammed down the team’s first kill making the score 15-4.
Nealman, Penny Blackmore, Howard, Breitfelder and Nachazel all added points for the Springville team in the final set, closing out the three-set setback.
“I can’t put into words what this season has meant to me,” Nia Howard said. “I love this game so much. Hopefully we get everyone back and keep the chemistry we have now. We’re all best friends on this team. We know each other so well and I know we’re all going to work hard in the off-season to come back and get way better next year.”
Breitfelder led all Oriole hitters totaling nine kills on just 20 attacks in the match while Stamp added six more. Wilson chipped in with four kills while Ashlynne Zaruba patrolled the back row coming up with 11 digs. Howard added 10 more.
“Today wasn’t our day, and that’s okay,” Breitfelder said. “We had a great season. We’re going to learn from the mistakes we made here and keep working to be able to make it back again next year.”
Gladbrook-Reinbeck went on to reach the class 1A state championship match before falling to seventh-seeded and 14th-ranked Burlington Notre Dame 20-25, 25-21, 18-25, 24-26.
The Orioles close the 2020 campaign with a phenomenal 27-5 overall record.