TIPTON, Iowa — After Tipton was swept by Osage in its quarterfinal match at the state volleyball tournament last season, the Tigers stuck around for the final two days of the tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
There was a purpose to that decision. With no seniors in Tipton's 2017 starting lineup, coach Amy Calonder already was peeking ahead to this season.
“There is a lot of hoopla that goes along with Friday’s (championship) game,” Calonder said. “We were going to watch that stuff so we can see and be aware of what could happen if we make it there this year.”
Tipton was a state tournament newbie and admitted to being overwhelmed by the atmosphere last year. The Tigers return Wednesday morning eager to prove they have staying power.
Ranked among the top three all season in Class 3A, No. 2 Tipton (37-3) meets 13th-ranked New Hampton in the quarterfinals.
“I think we are more prepared than we were last year,” senior Blake Ehler said. “Being in the atmosphere last year and knowing what it is like now, we’ve grown so much from that.”
The primary objective last season was to reach state, something the program never had done.
When the Tigers qualified with a sweep over Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont last week, the celebration was subdued. This team has bigger goals.
“After our last point last year in the regional final, it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. We finally did it, we reached our goal and everyone was crying,’” junior Kamryn Chapman said. “We never really talked about anything beyond making state last year.
“This year, we gathered in a little huddle, cheered a bit, shook hands and already were moving on to the next step.”
Calonder said the team has practiced very well in the last week. They’ve been confident and focused.
Instead of the occasional distractions that can come from qualifying for state, this veteran squad has remained motivated.
“We’re not worried about what the (state) t-shirts are or who is going to be there like we were last year going for the first time,” senior Emily Hermsen said. “We want to win. We weren’t confident about winning last year. We were much more focused on the little things.”
Tipton had no difficulty getting back to state. The Tigers played two teams with losing records in regionals and didn’t allow 20 points in any of the nine sets they played.
The Tigers, who already have set a single-season school record for matches (37) and sets (86) won, were tested throughout the regular season.
In a rugged River Valley Conference, which includes 2A state qualifier Wilton, regional finalist Durant and 3A top-10 programs Camanche and West Liberty, Tipton didn’t drop a match.
It also played 2A second-ranked Dyersville Beckman, 4A top-10 Waverly-Shell Rock and 5A eighth-ranked Pleasant Valley in weekend tournaments.
“We’re a lot more mentally sound this year,” Chapman said. “We work together a lot better, and we’re a lot more receptive to each other’s feedback.”
Of the nine players in Tipton’s rotation, six are seniors. One of the juniors is Utah recruit Sommer Daniel, a 5-foot-9 hitter and setter. She averages 4.11 kills, 4.54 assists and 3.01 digs per set.
The Tigers hope their experience can pay off. New Hampton is at the state tournament for the first time since 1974.
It is a role reversal from last year when Tipton was the new kid on the block and Osage had been at state the previous season.
“I still think about how quick that match went last year at state,” Hermsen said. “We didn’t play to our potential. We can show what we actually have this year.”
Should Tipton win, third-ranked MOC-Floyd Valley or Mount Vernon would wait in the semifinals.
In a season with some checked boxes -- RVC regular season and tournament titles along with a regional crown -- the next is winning at state and getting a shot at the championship match come 2:30 p.m. Friday.
“We’re on an all-time high right now,” Ehler said. “We’re very motivated because we want to have that state championship. There is nothing but that on our mind.”