BELLE PLAINE — Chelsea Russell’s serve is a weapon for the Colfax-Mingo volleyball team. And when her team needed it most Monday night, Russell delivered.
After falling behind in the first set to English Valleys during pool play of the South Iowa Cedar League tournament, Russell toed the service line and gave her team a 7-0 lead in the second set.
The streak kept the Tigerhawks in the match. And that was enough to eventually push Colfax-Mingo to a five-set win.
Colfax-Mingo rallied from a 1-0 and 2-1 hole and then trailed 7-0 in the fifth and final set before turning the tables on the Bears.
In the end, the Tigerhawks claimed a 19-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-16, 15-11 victory to secure a spot in the SICL’s Silver Quad on Thursday.
“Chelsea Russell served super tough tonight. We lose the second set against English Valleys if she doesn’t start it with seven straight points,” Colfax-Mingo coach Michelle Grant said.
The Tigerhawks are headed to the silver quad after a three-set loss to top-seeded Belle Plaine later Monday night.
The Plainsmen will host the gold quad on Thursday after a 25-11, 25-7, 25-9 win over Colfax-Mingo.
English Valleys opened the first match of the night with a 4-0 lead in the first set. The Tigerhawks (7-16) came back to tie the score six times, but a 4-0 run kept the Bears in front the rest of the way.
Russell’s start to the second set included three aces and her team was up 7-0 after her service run.
Russell has not missed a serve on the season. She was 33-for-33 against the Bears and is now 197-of-197 this season.
“I didn’t realize I was on a streak until Coach Grant told me I was at 124,” Russell said. “I don’t want to miss. I want to be perfect all season now.”
After the 7-0 start, the Tigerhawks didn’t trail in the set. English Valleys (4-17) got as close at 14-12, but another Russell ace made it 16-12 and then senior Colbee Cunningham put the set away with a pair of kills.
Cunningham finished with 13 kills and 30 digs in the win.
The Bears regained momentum in the third set. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead and never trailed again.
The Tigerhawks were never challenged in the fourth set. Another strong start on Russell’s serve gave C-M an early lead and then a 4-0 run later in the set made it 14-9.
English Valleys never got closer than five the rest of the way as the Tigerhawks forced a fifth and final game.
Things didn’t look good early for C-M in that fifth game.
The Bears scored the first seven points to take a commanding lead, but the Tigerhawks somehow rallied.
The Bears put C-M on the board with a service error and then senior Braedynn Rawlins kept the run alive with a kill. Cunningham’s consecutive kills a few points later got the Tigerhawks within 10-9.
That came during an 8-0 run that ended with an ace by senior Shaylee Shedenhelm. The Tigerhawks locked up the win and a spot in the silver quad a few points later.
“A lot of girls just kept saying we shouldn’t be in this position,” Russell said of the 7-0 deficit. “So we needed to change it back the other way. Our excitement level picked up a bunch, and we were able to turn it around.”
Freshman Kyra Lester and Russell both had double-doubles against English Valleys. Russell finished with 11 assists, 26 digs and six aces, and Lester added 15 assists, 17 digs, four kills and two aces. Lester also was 13-for-13 in serves.
Rawlins tallied 11 digs and five kills and Shedenhelm finished with 13 digs for the Tigerhawks. Freshman Morgan Van Dyke served up three aces.
The Tigerhawks open the SICL Silver Quad against Sigourney at 7 p.m. They had a 2-0 lead against the Savages last year before losing in five sets.
The other match is between Lynnville-Sully and North Mahaska at 5 p.m.
The winners meet for the silver quad championship at around 9 p.m. All three matches are at Sigourney High School as the highest seeded SICL East Division school hosts the quads this season. Colfax-Mingo, Lynnville-Sully and North Mahaska are all West Division programs.
“We are playing so much better volleyball than we were a month ago. We can be dangerous even in the silver quad,” Grant said. “We blew a lead against Sigourney last year. I will most certainly remind the girls of that.”
The Tigerhawks looked overmatched against East Division champion Belle Plaine. Grant feels like her team can play better against the league’s best teams but has yet to show that on the court.
“I understand that we had just played an emotional five-set match,” Grant said. “But we were defeated against Belle Plaine before we even started. We had some good plays and some good volleys, but we just think (Kenzie Mantz) is this big, bad volleyball player. We can play against her, but we don’t think that.”
Against Belle Plaine (22-4), Cunningham led the Tigerhawks with five kills and seven digs. Lester chipped in seven assists and seven digs, Rawlins had seven digs, Shedenhelm added six digs and senior Rilee Slycord collected three blocks.
Belle Plaine had 31 kills against Colfax-Mingo. Senior Kenzie Mantz, an Iowa State recruit, had 18 of them. She has 333 kills on the season, which leads the conference by more than 50.