Scrappy Hawks refuse to lose against rival R-S

South Hamilton’s players celebrate on the court following their 3-1 victory over Heart of Iowa Conference rival Roland-Story last night in Story City. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

STORY CITY — The birthday curse is broken. Smile, Breanne Diersen, you earned it.

The South Hamilton senior celebrated her 18th birthday with plenty of slams and blocks, screams and hugs, here last night. Hawks’ head coach Ashley Rosenstiel will be lucky if any of her players have a voice left for practice, actually.

That’s how big this win was.

After dropping the opening set to Roland-Story, South Hamilton returned fire with a scrappy defense and a relentless pursuit of the ball en route to a four-set victory over its Heart of Iowa Conference rival.

It was the 10th straight victory for the Hawks (20-2, 2-0 HOIC) and it avenged a non-conference setback against the much bigger Norsemen back in August.

Breanne Diersen lets out a scream moments after South Hamilton finished off the third set, 32-30, against Roland-Story last night. She celebrated her 18th birthday with a 3-1 victory. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“That felt so good,” Diersen, who was forced to endure losses to Nevada on each of her last two birthdays, said after she delivered 10 kills in South Hamilton’s 22-25, 25-18, 32-30, 25-18 victory. “We were just ourselves. We figured out our rhythm and that’s what we went with.”

Lily Skartvedt hammered 17 kills, including 11 in the final two sets, in the win. Hailey Cavan lashed 13 more and dove all over the floor for 33 digs. Sydney Friest added seven kills and a career night behind the service line during points of the match when South Hamilton needed someone to step up and take charge.

It was a team effort. From the opening-set disappointment to the frenzied celebration on the court following the clinching set.

“This is so big for us,” Cavan said. “This is the (match) of the season so far for us because it’s a rival.”

The third set was the difference maker, as the two teams traded punches throughout the marathon. There were nine lead changes and 20 ties; Roland-Story (10-2, 3-1 HOIC) saved five set points, while South Hamilton fended off four.

South Hamilton junior Hailey Cavan tumbles on the floor after diving for a dig in the second set against Roland-Story last night. She had 33 digs in the Hawks’ 3-1 win over the Norsemen. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

A little gamesmanship on the part of Cavan helped as well.

With her team staring at a 30-29 deficit following one of MaKayla Geise’s eight kills in the set, Cavan quickly asked for a towel to wipe off a wet spot on the floor. She was methodical, even asking for a bigger towel as the Norsemen players stood around and watched.

What was the point? To make Roland-Story stop and think, and it worked.

“There wasn’t as much (moisture) there as I let on,” Cavan said with a smile on her face. “It made them think about what they were going to do next, and the more you think the more you’re going to mess up.”

South Hamilton answered the final challenge with three consecutive points. A Friest ace moved the Hawks in front, 31-30, and Skartvedt’s sixth kill of the set from the outside finished it off.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

And Roland-Story never recovered.

“I felt like right when we started the fourth set they were really down,” Skartvedt, who saved two of the set points in the third with kills, said. “So that third set gave us a lot of momentum.”

Tentative against the block of the Norsemen in the opening set, South Hamilton eventually fell in a 16-11 hole in the second before it rattled off 14 of the final 16 points to even it up. Friest’s serving was a big reason why, as the Hawks went on an 8-0 run with her behind the line to move in front for good. She also notched six consecutive points midway through the third.

“A highly consistent server that can handle that type of pressure, that’s huge,” Rosenstiel said. “For her to be able to step up and do that, it’s a senior thing to do. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

It didn’t hurt that South Hamilton decided its best weapon was swinging for the fences over the final three sets.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

And swing away the Hawks did.

“At first we were a little worried about the block because they’re so big and we’re not,” Skartvedt said. “But we knew we had to hit hard because that was the only thing that got us points, so we just started swinging.”

Hawks’ libero Leah Jacoby was stellar as well. She piled up 29 digs.