There are precious few things in life that could tear me away from watching my beloved Atlanta Braves playing in a possible World Series clinching game.
The birth of a child. One of my kids getting married. A funeral.
Life-altering moments, but like I said, the list is extremely short.
But when I found out the Springville volleyball team was playing on the same night, and at pretty much the same exact same time as the Braves (leading three games to two) were playing the Houston Astros in game six of the World Series, I honestly didn’t flinch. There was no way I was going to miss the Orioles during their shining moment on the class 1A state tournament quarter-final stage in downtown Cedar Rapids Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Ok, now don’t go thinking I’m some sort of magnanimous sycophant just yet.
It helped that Springville Activities Director Joe Martin is also a huge Braves fan (though maybe not quite as fanatical as myself), and had the game streaming on his phone as he and his family also watched the Springville girls in their state opener at the Alliant Energy Powerhouse.
Martin was able to give me updates during the course of the Orioles’ impressive three-set sweep over a Gladbrook-Reinbeck team who had knocked Springville out of the state volleyball tournament in three sets exactly one year ago.
Sometimes I was able to go over to Martin, (who was thankfully just a few feet from where I was taking photos and notes during the match) to receive Braves updates. Other times Martin gave me coded signals that I didn’t quite understand, and often times Martin did his best to yell or wave his hands letting me know something good had happened in Houston.
I guess I missed several of those vociferous alerts as well as I was watching Springville cruise to a lopsided win.
Springville High School Principal Nick Merritt, who was also sitting right there watching the Orioles with Martin, was getting a kick out of witnessing his colleague attempting to relay messages to me during the course of the match (many of which I had no idea he was even doing as the environment on the floor was extremely loud, and often times, very intense).
The night ended exactly like I (and Martin) hoped it would. With both the Springville girls and Atlanta Braves winning their respective games.
For the Braves it was their first World Series championship since 1995. For the Orioles it was their first trip to the state semi-final round since 2017, which is as far as the program had ever advanced at state.
That was until Wednesday, Nov. 3.
Watching the Orioles destroy a very good North Tama team in three absolutely dominating sets a night after the Braves won the World Series, literally gave me goose bumps.
The Springville girls could do no wrong. Lauren Wilson, Savannah Nealman, Kennady Breitfelder, Lily Clark, Molly Stamp and Nia Howard attacked the net relentlessly slamming down kills. Howard, who had a scintillating state tournament, set 26 assists, and the back row (Breitfelder, Howard, Stamp, Nealman, Wilson, Ashlynne Zaruba, Morgan Nachazel, Grace Matus and Kelcie Clothier) just would not allow a Redhawk shot to hit the floor all night long. You could sense the North Tama frustration, a night after the Redhawks knocked off No. 2 seeded and second-ranked Gehlen-Catholic.
When the final point came, thanks to a Redhawk hitting error that ended the 25-10, 25-12, 25-17 Oriole victory, you could see the culmination of a lifetime of work on the face of Springville head coach Claude Howard Jr., who dropped to his knees.
Howard’s wife Tiel, an inspirational Oriole assistant coach and in a wheelchair on the Springville sideline, covered her face as she burst into tears of joy.
This was the moment they both had wanted for his team, and had trained the girls towards during the last four years. To make it to the state championship match.
And they had done it.
Reality had finally reached the dream for this group of Oriole girls. They had done something that had never happened before in school history.
Now there was one more volleyball match to play Thursday, Nov. 4, against top-ranked Burlington-Notre Dame. Everyone’s favorite to win the 1A state title.
The storybook ending would have had Springville walking off the floor with the stunning win, and for a while it appeared it could actually happen too.
The Oriole girls came out swinging as Nealman, Clark, Howard, Wilson and Stamp had the Nikes wondering what direction the volleyball was going to be coming from as Springville stunned the huge crowd winning the first set 25-21. The Orioles scored the final five points of the set, ending with an emphatic kill from Wilson, who had six of them in the first set alone.
Burlington-Notre Dame would go on to win the final three sets and close out their second-straight 1A state volleyball championship, but as the tears flowed on the Springville side of the net, hopefully there should also have been an amazing sense of accomplishment.
Yes, the loss in the title tilt hurt. Obviously, opportunities like these don’t come around often (but don’t think we’ve heard the last from this Oriole program at the elite state level), but the journey those girls took each and every one of their students, coaches, parents and fans on this season was nothing short of incredible.
Regular season and tournament Tri-Rivers Conference championships. An unblemished regional playoff run and finally a state championship match appearance. If that sentence doesn’t give Springville fans goose bumps, nothing will.
This was the Orioles’ eighth trip to the state level. Howard Jr. and his staff have built a power program, but like Howard Jr. said after the regional championship win over St. Ansgar in Waterloo, there was something special about this 2021 team. Something…..different.
Something Springville fans will never forget.