VOLLEYBALL: Rams pull out rare, five-set nail-bitter in regional opener
By BRANDON HURLEY
Emotions were difficult to place as the magnitude of the moment set in.
All third-year Greene County head coach Chris Heisterkamp could manage was a deep inhale and a smile before bouncing her way into the joyous celebrations.
Years of frustration and underwhelming outcomes evaporated thanks to a thrilling, five-set postseason victory. The Rams clawed their way to a 3-2 win over Southeast Valley Oct. 19, rejecting a number of comeback attempts in the first round of the Class 3A region 2 tournament.
Heisterkamp was giddy with excitement afterward, relishing in a rare moment of Greene County ecstasy.
“I just knew they had it. I knew that’s what we can do,” Heisterkamp said, attempting to calm her adrenaline. “I was celebrating with them. I’ve been telling them all along, ‘you guys can do (it).’ I was so happy for them that they got to put it all together. I was thrilled.”
Monday’s match reached a crescendo in the middle of the fifth and final set. SEV had tied Greene County at two apiece, climbing back from a 2-1 deficit. The Jaguars, true to their resilience all night long, once again rebounded to knot the decisive set at 7-all. Heisterkamp felt the match slipping away and quickly called a timeout, urging her athletes to relax. After surging out to a commanding 6-2 lead, well on their way to victory, the Rams squandered five of the next six points.
Fatigue and jitters may have played a role in the later moments of the match. The Rams weren’t entirely too familiar with their position, either. They’d only played into a fifth set one other time this fall (A 3-2 loss to PCM on Sept. 8), and this particular group of girls had never been this close to playoff satisfaction. This was the biggest turning point many of them had faced in their entire playing careers.
“We had a run of a couple bloopers, we needed to settle down,” Heisterkamp said. “We needed to slow down. When we get tired, we don’t move our feet as well and reach for the ball..... I told them ‘I know you’re tired, everybody’s exhausted. You’re all over the floor. You have to dig down in that reserve and find a way.’”
Greene County found a way to power through, thanks to the quick pep talk and magnificent play from their seniors.
The Rams burst out of the break, and scored eight of the next 13 points, initiated by Brianna Osterson’s tie-breaking kill. Victory was within their grasp and it felt good. They weren’t letting this opportunity slip away.
Greene County opened the match with a back-and-forth first set win (25-23), followed by a tight loss in the second (25-16) and a spirited bounce-back win in the third (25-16). SEV rebounded in the fourth thanks to a dominant 8-0 run, forcing the tie-breaker with a 25-15 win. The Rams flexed their grit in the final set, squeaking out the 15-12 win, setting off a way of celebration. The Rams (8-18), who have not produced a winning record since the 2011 season, now find themselves two wins from the state tournament.
“This sends a message that we are somebody to contend with,” Heisterkamp said. “Don’t count us out because of our record. I think everything is clicking. We are going to go for it. It’s the perfect time. If you’re going to peak, now is the time to do it.”
Osterson was on an absolute mission Monday night, securing a team-best 28 kills while sophomore Isabella Schroeder chipped in with 13 kills in addition to Lilly Muir’s 11 kills. As a team, the Rams connected on 56 total kills. The Rams swung the match in their favor in the third set, taking a 2-1 lead thanks to a convincing rally, as well as a number of point saving scrambles and a unmatched grit to win.
“When our passing is good off the serve-receive, we can get some offense,” Heisterkamp said. “When our hitters are on, man, they are on. It felt like all the parts were on and we were working together. All the loose balls and scrambling, digs here and there. Their heart was ‘I’m going for it.’”
Southeast Valley’s Kiersten Fisher entered the match ranked second in 3A with 381 kills and certainly didn’t disappoint. She came away with 28 kills despite Greene County’s best efforts to slow the senior. The Rams were focused on re-directing SEV’s offense away from the future all-state prospect, finding relative success early on. Heisterkamp forced her athletes to forget about the Jaguars’ two-set sweep a couple weeks back and reset.
It seemed to work.
“We felt like we had some good time to prepare for (Fisher),” Heisterkamp said. “We knew to watch her angles and be ready for the back row attacks, the top spin. We were more aware for what was coming at us. We were thinking more clearly.”
Greene County was swept by 10th-ranked Humboldt (32-3) in the Region 2 semifinals Wednesday night. The Wildcats sport one of the top clubs in the state thanks to 928 team kills entering the Oct. 21 match, which was the sixth-best mark in 2A.
Wednesday’s winner advances to Tuesday’s regional championship, with a shot at state on the line.
“I think we can get a little more finesse going,” Heisterkamp said of Greene County’s chances prior to the semifinal showdown. “If we fight and go for every ball, like I keep telling them, amazing things will happen. Let’s go and give it our all and see what happens. You never know.”
The 3A state tournament is set for Nov. 2-5 in Cedar Rapids.