Dons block Redhawks in regional final, 3-0

Redhawk sophomore Rylee Ridout (second from right) is congratulated by her teammates including (l-r) Zoey Rausch (3), Kruiz Ewoldt, and Kahlia Even after a hard-earned, successful block against the Dons last week Wednesday in Vinton. All but one North Tama player – including the four pictured – are underclassmen and slated to return next season. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

VINTON – Last Wednesday night was familiar, yet unfamiliar territory for North Tama volleyball.

The Don Bosco team across the net was one all-too-familiar to the Redhawks, and when it came to playing on a big stage, the Dons’ experience trumped North Tama’s youth once more this season.

The red-hot Dons dispatched North Tama in straight sets at Vinton-Shellsburg High School on Oct. 25 in a Class 1A Region 7 final to return to state, in what was both a top-10 battle and a meeting of Iowa Star teams that qualified for state last fall.

Tenth-ranked Don Bosco advanced, 25-13, 25-16, 25-20. The fifth-ranked Redhawks bowed out at 25-16.

“We were a little timid, a little gun shy,” North Tama head coach Channing Halstead said. “And they’re [Don Bosco] one of the hottest teams in 1A right now.”

Redhawk junior Grace Kennedy receives a hard Dons' hit last week Wednesday in Vinton during the 1A Region 7 final. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

The Dons never trailed in set one and slammed the Redhawks with an 8-0 closing run as Don Bosco co-captains Alexis Even and Emily Naughton spearheaded an assault with points scored both through swings and sturdy blocks of Redhawk attacks.

Tied at 5-all in set two, the Dons put together a 6-0 run and never looked back to grab the big 2-0 advantage.

“We talked before the third set about how we have nothing to lose at this point,” Halstead said. “‘Do we want to go down feeling sorry for ourselves or do we want to play like we know how to play?'”

The Redhawks fared better in set three, getting good swings from breakout sophomore star Kruiz Ewoldt and solid front-row play from sophomore Rylee Ridout and junior Briar Blake, supplemented by a hard-working libero in Addison Hochstetler trying to stem the Dons’ offensive tide and battling to an 11-11 tie.

Ultimately, another 6-0 Don Bosco run doomed the Redhawks. North Tama was able to battle back to within 24-20 before one last Naughton kill ended it.

One of the hardest-working athletes on the court that night was Redhawk Izzy Hallett, North Tama's lone senior player this season. She left everything on the court, matching the maturity level of the Dons when things got really sticky for her young team. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

The Dons defeated North Tama for the fourth time this season, never dropping a set to the Redhawks and turning the tables in the head-to-head series that North Tama had firmly controlled since 2017, a series that Halstead thought shouldn’t have been revisited before getting to the state tournament.

“I think that we should both be down there [in Coralville] playing,” Halstead said in regard to the Redhawks’ postseason draw.

Ewoldt finished with 10 kills, Izzy Hallett six kills and Kahlia Even three kills. Zoey Rausch set up 20 assists and Hochstetler hit the floor to bring up 26 digs.

Hallett is the only senior on this North Tama roster, and in a season where the highly-ranked Redhawks had to mature quickly, Hallett sets the standard, Halstead said.

“Izzy was the only one that stuck with me from fifth grade,” she added. “I’ve told her that it can’t be easy, having to go through the growing pains. … We’ve got 14 girls right now who love each other and me and I’m thankful for that, she’s led the way for all of them, … a very competitive kid who pours her heart and soul into everything she does.”

Sophomore star Kruiz Ewoldt fires the ball at the Dons during last Wednesday night's Class 1A Region 7 final. Ewoldt is No. 3 this season in kills in Class 1A with 389. Her success is often made possible thanks to skillfully-placed assists from junior teammate Zoey Rausch, lower right, who looks to be every inch as talented by her senior year as older sister, former Redhawk standout Jade Rausch. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

The sting of Wednesday’s loss will fade in the days and weeks to come, and the Redhawks will surely be ready to defend another good preseason ranking in 2024.

“I hoped we would play better tonight,” Halstead said. “But we had to grow up a lot faster than we anticipated. Now, we’re all back. Briar will be at full strength. And we’ll be a lot more mature with a lot more experience and that’ll make a big difference.”

Hard-working Redhawk libero Addy Hochstetler pictured early in the first set against Don Bosco. Hochstetler, a sophomore, entered the match No. 5 in Class 1A for digs with 493 this season. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

North Tama outside hitter Kruiz Ewoldt (9) never seemed to lose her positive attitude and smile against a tenacious Dons' defense. Pictured with her teammates Rylee Ridout, left, and Briar Blake. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Redhawk sophomore Adi Fuller sets up a serve against the Dons in the Vinton-Shellsburg gym. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER