After the delay of the fall season, the Northeast Community College volleyball team made the most of its opportunity to finally return to the court Tuesday night.

The Hawks swept past visiting Iowa Lakes Community College of Estherville, Iowa, 3-0 — winning 25-18, 25-18 and 25-21 — in what the team hopes is its first step toward a fifth straight return to the NJCAA DII National Volleyball Tournament.

For that to happen, according to coach Amanda Schultze, the team will need to follow the leadership of its trio of returning sophomores — Elizabeth Christensen of Stanton, Carly Hirsch of Norfolk and Jamie Bonifas of Blue Hill.

“We have some sophomores that have had good playing experience and are able to provide leadership in more than one area,” Schultze said. “Jamie played half the season as our setter last year, Carly was a starting middle-hitter, and Liz was a defensive specialist who is playing all the way around the rotation this year.”

The team also added another sophomore in the offseason, Alexis Kapales, from Jonesboro, Arkansas.

“We got Alexis as a sophomore transfer from Labette Community College in Parsons, Kansas,” Schultze said. “She’s our libero — she’s not quiet, she talks the game the entire time — so that helps us out back there. She’s very vocal, which is great, because most of the freshmen are very quiet.”

The combination of returning sophomores and first-year players jelled as the Hawks pulled away from a 4-4 tie to lead 19-10 and weathered a brief comeback rally by Iowa Lakes that brought the Lakers back to within 20-16 before closing out the 25-18 first-set win.

Northeast’s offense featured a balanced hitting attack led by freshmen Makayla Forsberg and Payton Weber, who finished with three kills each. But the Hawks also got contributions from Christensen and Hirsch, who added two kills apiece, and a pair of ace serves by Hayley Hughes, along with one from Hirsch and another from Weber.

Weber then paced Northeast offensively with five kills in the second set, propelling the Hawks to another 25-18 victory.

Northeast didn’t commit an attack error until the lead increased to 18-10 on a Hirsch kill of a Lakers overpass, and Iowa Lakes could get no closer than 24-18 on the Hawks’ third and final hitting error.

Hirsch — who also recorded an ace serve in the second set — continued to provide offense for Northeast, accumulating eight kills and another ace in the third set, a 25-21 Hawks win.

Weber, Kapales and Hughes all added much-needed ace serves in the set, which saw seven tie scores and five lead changes.

After catching the Lakers at 10-10, Northeast trailed again until forging a tie at 19 and then finished out the set on Kapales’ ace, two kills and a block by Hirsch. On match point, at 24-21, Bonifas — who finished the night with 29 set assists — set Hirsch in the middle for the game-winner.

For the most part against Iowa Lakes, the Hawks avoided hitting errors — totaling just 10 in the three sets — although Schultze said the errors were made “when it mattered more often than when we were up by a lot,” which also the case with Northeast’s occasional service error.

“It was kind of what I expected for a first night,” Schultze said. “After tonight I see the little things that we need to work on, things that really stood out to me which haven’t in practice.”

Northeast Community College (1-0) defeats Iowa Lakes Community College (0-2) 25-18, 25-18, 25-21.

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