High School Volleyball

Tompkins deals No. 4 Seven Lakes 1st loss as playoffs beckon

By Dennis Silva II | Sports Editor
Posted 11/15/20

Tompkins’ fifth consecutive win on Saturday afternoon will be rewarded with a popsicle party on Monday, a program tradition whenever a win streak hits a handful.

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High School Volleyball

Tompkins deals No. 4 Seven Lakes 1st loss as playoffs beckon

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Tompkins’ fifth consecutive win on Saturday afternoon will be rewarded with a popsicle party on Monday, a program tradition whenever a win streak hits a handful.

That the win came against previously undefeated district rival and No. 4 state-ranked Seven Lakes, though, will hopefully mean much more than a sweet treat when the playoffs start Nov. 19.

The Falcons beat the Spartans, 3-1, in impressive fashion, winning 25-23, 25-14, 17-25 and 25-23 in each team’s district season finale. The win pushed Tompkins to 14-6 overall and a third-place finish in District 19-6A at 8-4. Seven Lakes, which had dropped just six sets all season entering the game, suffered its first loss of the season, falling to 17-1, but still easily secured its third district championship in the last five seasons.

“It was a rival match, so obviously we’re mentally preparing for it all week,” Tompkins junior outside hitter Paris Herrman said. “They have amazing players that we were ready to face. We found holes in their defense. We served really well, finding the weakest spots, and we took advantage of that.”

For the Spartans, the game wrapped up an exhaustive five-game makeup schedule that started Nov. 7. Seven Lakes had missed the previous 2 ½ weeks suspended from play due to a rash of COVID-19 cases on campus. Then the Spartans made up five postponed district games over eight days.

“It was difficult,” Seven Lakes coach Amy Cataline said. “There were moments when it felt like preseason, after being off for 2 ½ weeks without a ball in our hands. I felt we’ve been inconsistent with our level of play, compared to when we left off prior to the COVID situation, we had a bunch of momentum and we were coming together and gelled.”

The Falcons, meanwhile, have struck a nice rhythm. Coach Allison Merrell, whose program dealt with its own COVID-19 adversity earlier this season, said her team is beginning to forge an identity.

“It took time for us to figure out who needed to play where and how we were going to play certain positions,” Merrell said. “Without a dedicated preseason and no tournaments, it’s taken us longer than usual to figure out what we need to do and what works well.”

Against Seven Lakes, Tompkins had a strong balance of playmaking in its attack and on defense. When Herrman, junior middle hitter Natassia Baptiste and sophomore outside hitter Ella Folse weren’t finding gaps in the Spartans’ defense with strategic hitting, senior libero Gabby Gregorski, junior Madison Gundry, junior Cassidy Karonka and sophomore Presley Powell ignited a hustling, all-out defensive effort against a powerful-swinging Spartans team.

“There was a sense of calm with them,” Merrell said of her girls. “There was no panic. They came in and did their jobs. They were excited, but calm, and that’s a good combination for us.”

Cataline said her team needs to come into games more focused. It showed early, as the Falcons were clearly the more inspired team.

“Tompkins did a really good job playing with a lot of heart,” Cataline said. “There were balls that I thought were dead that they kept alive. I felt we could’ve done a better job of being faster on defense and keeping the ball off the ground.”

Aside from star senior outside hitter and Nebraska signee Ally Batenhorst, the Spartans got little going offensively.

“We did everything right, but we were just slow,” Batenhorst said. “And they were super scrappy and executed everything right. They did everything well.”

Cataline said her team simply needs more time on the court together. Batenhorst is optimistic a sour loss can be turned into a positive.

“It was hard having two weeks off, and it can be hard to recover from when you’re playing or practicing every day,” Batenhorst said. “It was tough and challenging, and it’s a process. Having a loss sucks, but I think it will make us want to work harder. We do have things to improve on. We know we can’t just beat everybody. We’ll go into practice, work harder and I think this loss can help us.”

For the Falcons, their confidence is sky-high. Herrman was most impressed with her team’s “winning mentality” through all four sets, never letting up and countering almost every rally the Spartans threw at them.

Tompkins is right where Merrell would like it to be at the perfect time of the season. Details of bi-district playoff matchups are expected to come Wednesday.

“This is huge,” Merrell said of the win. “I don’t think it’s sunk in for them and I don’t think it’s sunk in for me. It’s a really good feeling, though.”

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