Early in the third set of Gilbert’s volleyball match with North Polk on Tuesday Erin Bathie received a nice gift.
Bathie turned 18 on Monday, but she had one more present in store with the help of teammate Thea Rotto.
During Tuesday’s match with North Polk Rotto had run down a Comet kill attempt on the left side and just got enough off the ball as she was diving toward it to put it back in play.
Bathie hustled over to recover the ball, sending a volley back over her head toward the net. She was only attempting to keep the ball alive for a teammate, but it hit the top of the net.
The ball rolled along the net and landed on the right side. It hit the ground in play on the North Polk end of the court, earning Gilbert a point.
“That was pretty incredible,” Bathie said. “Thea made an amazing effort to go get it and I just knew I had to get it over the net. That’s all I could do and I’m happy that it ended in our point.”
From then on Bathie knew it was her day. The senior outside hitter came up with 14 big kills and she also had two blocks and was all over the floor in the back row to help the Tigers knock off the Comets in five sets to win the showdown between the two Raccoon River Conference newbies and remain perfect in the conference at 3-0.
Bathie also played well in Gilbert’s second match of the day, a two-set sweep of a Roland-Story team ranked 11th in Class 3A in a non-conference match to complete the triangular and cap a perfect senior night for the Tigers.
“I think she’s our secret weapon,” Gilbert head coach Stacy Johnson said. “A lot of teams haven’t seen her for the last couple years. Honestly, she’s a DS (defensive specialist) player and we asked her to be a six-rotation player for us this year. She’s been a great player for us and a key player for us.”
The reason teams hadn’t seen much of Bathie prior to this season was a knee injury she suffered during the semifinals of the girls’ state soccer tournament her sophomore year. Bathie dislocated her knee and tore a ligament off her femur.
That led to a long and painful rehab process.
“It was very hard,” Bathie said. “I’d never had an injury that had taken me out of playing for more than a week. I’d had sprained ankles, rolled ankles – but nothing has ever compared to that. I knew after I could get out of that 3 ½ months I knew I could go through anything.”
She made it back onto the volleyball court just before the end of last year’s regular season. But she wasn’t at the point where she could do much to help the team, appearing in just three sets.
Her junior soccer season was taken away by COVID-19, so Bathie kept training and doing what she needed to do in order to keep her knee healthy so she was ready to take the volleyball court this fall.
“I knew this year was going to be my year,” Bathie said. “I was going to kill it and do everything in my power to make it so this team could be as successful as possible.”
Bathie had been a defensive specialist and Johnson was contemplating making her the libero at the start of the season. But with the graduation of dominant middle blocker and current Iowa State Cyclone Haleigh Hadley (261 kills and 103 blocks) along with Claire Roske (114 kills) off last year’s team Bathie was called on to play all the way around.
“We needed another outside hitter and we asked her to step up and fill that role,” Johnson said. “I’m glad we did.”
Entering Tuesday’s triangular Bathie was second on the team with 71 kills. She also led the team in digs with 136 and was a strong serving weapon with 94-percent efficiency and 12 aces.
“Erin’s been wonderful,” Rotto said. “It’s been such a blessing to have her come into this role and come into it confidently. Back-row attacks, front-row attacks – she knows her spots and it’s been really impressive to see her grow. She’s been a star player for us this year.”
Rotto is Gilbert’s go-to player on attacks. She led the Tigers in kills last season with 302 and is performing at an even higher level in 2020.
This year Rotto is averaging 3.2 kills per set with a 19.8-percent kill-efficiency rate. In 2019 Rotto averaged 2.7 kills on 16.4-percent efficiency.
Part of the reason for Rotto’s improvement is the emergence of Bathie.
“We’ve been holding each other accountable really well this season,” Rotto said. “I think Erin is on my case as much as I’m on her. It really does help – it makes us better players.”
Bathie has shown she has a great feel for the game.
“She knows when to tip, she knows when to roll shot, she knows when to swing away,” Johnson said. “She’ll read the defense and work really hard to put that ball where she needs to get the point.”
And she keeps striving to get better.
“She’s just a fighter,” Johnson said. “She’s a competitor and she just doesn’t give up. She knows what she wants and she goes after it.”
Gilbert (13-7) plans on contending for the RRC championship. Bathie is ready to help her team achieve that goal.
“I’ve been waiting for a year to play with these guys,” Bathie said. “I knew it was going to be a big role to fill and I’m going to do everything I have to do so we can win all these games and be No. 1 in the conference.”