Hawks can’t close No. 14 Comets, fall in 5

JEWELL – A salesman will tell you the secret to success is ABC: Always Be Closing.

The South Hamilton volleyball team could use a refresher course on the subject matter.

North Polk wasn’t buying what the Hawks were trying to sell Tuesday night on Coach Jim Marsh Court, as the 14th-ranked (Class 3A) Comets rallied from one deficit after another, including two match points, to steal the Heart of Iowa Conference road victory, 3-2.

It was South Hamilton’s third straight loss against a ranked league opponent. But this one hurt as much, if not more, than the combined sweeps it suffered at the hands of No. 3 (3A) Nevada and No. 12 (3A) Roland-Story.

The Hawks had this one. They. Had. It.

And then they didn’t.

“I think we let up after our wins. We relaxed after our wins,” South Hamilton head coach Cindy Holmes said after North Polk exited the gym with the 18-25, 25-14, 21-25, 25-11, 17-15 victory. “I think we would win a (set) and then instead of having the passion to win every single ball, we just sat back and waited on them to make mistakes.”

It was an eerie disconnect for the Hawks (12-7, 4-3 HOIC), who were aggressive and poised en route to wins in the first and third sets. They blistered 24 of their 35 kills in those two stanzas, keyed by the blitz attacks of Alyssa Hegland and Ady Wintermote.

Hegland laced seven kills in the opening set, which South Hamilton ended on an 8-1 run after the teams were deadlocked at 17. Hegland’s last smash from the outside put the Hawks in the lead.

Wintermote connected for four kills and Tiffany Jacobson was a defensive wall with three blocks in the set.

But in the few minutes between sets something changed.

North Polk (15-7, 4-1 HOIC) opened the second set on a 7-1 run and led by as many as 14 points, 18-4, before the Hawks made a minimal run to make it respectable.

Wintermote and Hegland combined for seven more kills in the third set, which South Hamilton didn’t lead until 11-10 on Anna Moss’ lone kill of the match. The Hawks jumped in front for good at 18-17 and put it away on Wintermote’s fourth blast down the line.

But just like in Set 2, the Hawks forgot what put them out front in the fourth set.

It was 8-2 in North Polk’s favor in the blink of an eye and the Hawks never got closer than four points the remained of the way.

The Comets ended the quick set on a 15-5 run to force the tie-breaking fifth.

Holmes called both of her timeouts in the fourth set, but there were no magic words to get her team back in the hunt.

“It wasn’t a lack of effort, but I would just like to see us stay aggressive all the time, like we were in the first and third sets,” she said. “The girls are hurting and I think they’ll learn from it, but it’s just very disappointing.”

South Hamilton was back to its odd-numbered sets magic early in the fifth, as it surged to a 7-1 lead behind a pair of kills from Hegland, who slapped five in the set and a team-high 15 in all.

North Polk slowly worked back into contention behind the powerful right arm of Hannah Becker and eventually pulled to within one, 11-10.

It was 13-12 in the Hawks’ favor when Hegland went across the court with a kill to give her team a pair of match points. A Becker blast erased the first one and a South Hamilton attack error knotted it again at 14.

South Hamilton eventually fended off a match point of its own to bring it back to even at 15-15, but Becker was too good; she blasted back-to-back kills from the left side of the floor to seal the deal.

Becker cranked out a match-high 18 kills and hit .286. Wintermote hit a team-best .367 and slapped 14 kills in the loss.

Setters Carly Swenson and Kenzie Busch doled out 16 and 11 assists for the Hawks. Wintermote reeled in 16 digs, while Anna and Alissa Moss both finished with 11.

Morgan Bullock and Lilly Lomica had 24 digs each for the Comets.

South Hamilton will face more stern competition on Saturday when it competes in the Hampton-Dumont Invite in Hampton. Among the teams in the Hawks’ pool is third-ranked and reigning 1A state champion Janesville.