Tanagers earn return trip to state tournament Many things stood in the way of the Vermillion Tanagers in their quest to defend their S.D. Class A volleyball title.
The Tanagers lost eight players and the head coach from the title team and third-ranked Elk Point-Jefferson stood in the way.
The Tanagers overcame those obstacles with a district championship, then moved past another Saturday with wins of 15-5, 15-11 and 15-12, 15-4 over the Lennox Ladybirds for the Region 4A title and a berth in this week's State Volleyball Tournament.
"In the last month, this team has really come around. Early in the season, we couldn't get anything going," said Vermillion head coach Jodi Zeller. "But this is not the same team that we had the first two months of the season."
The Tanagers jumped on Lennox early in the first match, then held on for the victory.
Shorey Tuetken got the Vermillion offense going with 15 set assists. Amanda Iverson and Jana Prasek each had 5 kills. Prasek and Melissa Rydell each had 3 ace serves. Megan Tolsma served for 10 points, including 2 ace serves. Laura Burcham had 8 digs to lead the Tanager defense.
Lennox got things going in the second match, holding leads of 2-0, 4-3 and 7-6. But the Tanagers fired away with Prasek and Iverson to run off 6 straight points and take a 12-7 lead.
The Ladybirds rallied back, pulling to within one with strong net play from Julia Poppens, but Vermillion held off the advance to take the opening game.
The Tanagers left little doubt in the deciding game, jumping out to an 11-0 lead and coasting to the title.
Tuetken had 15 set assists, 8 digs and 11 service points to lead Vermillion. Iverson had 8 kills and Burcham 6 kills to lead the Tanager net game.
For the tournament, Poppens had 9 kills and Heidi Ratcliff 8 kills to lead the Ladybird offense. Jessica Nelson had 14 set assists and 5 digs. Karen Plucker added 7 digs. Lennox coach Jean Placek felt her team did not play up to its potential. "I think our kids played tentatively," she said. "We had a couple of runs where it looked like we might pull ourselves out of it, but we made mental mistakes and they came right back."
While the Ladybirds graduate six seniors, including both of their strong middle hitters (Plucker and Poppens), the cupboard is not bare in Lennox. "We have a strong corps of sophomores all tall, all big," Placek said. "It will be another exciting year again next year."
Vermillion's game plan was executed to near perfection, according to Zeller. "We wanted to take away their setter (Nelson)," she said. "If we can't hit as hard as we want, then we wanted to hit at their setter and take away their ability to get their hitters going."
The berth in the state tournament completes a turnaround in a season that saw the Tanagers lose 15 matches-three times more than last year's title team. That turning point came when Zeller implemented a change in philosophy. "It took me two months to convince them that they were a different team than last year's squad. That squad was so offensively-oriented, and we do have as many weapons as they do," she said. "This year we needed defensive intensity, and since we've picked that up, we've played really well."
At the same time, the Tanagers spread out the offensive duties. "For the first two months, we relied solely on Amanda, and she was struggling a little because teams were keying on her � she wasn't playing bad, but she was not hitting 'Amanda-style'," said Zeller. "But since we got our outside hitters (Prasek and Burcham) going, they've done an incredible job."
Vermillion's record (17-15) will mean a first round matchup with top-ranked Bon Homme, where Zeller served as an assistant the past two years. The two teams also met up in the second round of last year's tournament.
"I already called and told (Bon Homme head coach) Deb (Sternhagen) that we won," said Zeller shortly after the match. "I'd really love to play them."