MHS spikers reach state after epic Eau Claire battle
The young Bluejay volleyball team played beyond its years when it eliminated top-seeded Eau Claire Memorial from Saturday’s WIAA Sectional at Chippewa Falls.
The thrilling victory lasted to extra points in three of the five sets, and second-seeded Merrill closed it out with a 16-14 triumph despite trailing 12-7 a short time earlier.
“It was crazy,” MHS coach Kris Krug said. “It’s an incredible feeling that they’ve accomplished this goal.”
The Jays knotted it up at 13-13 in the fifth set and fell behind 14-13 after two girls collided going for a set. But Rylee Folz spiked deep in Memorial territory to tie it again at 14-14, Emily Page caught the Old Abes napping on a quick point and Folz dropped an angled tip for the match-winner.
“Emily was serving then and she caught them off-guard,” Krug said. “Then we set it up to Rylee. Earlier she had been tipping it too long, but she tipped it perfectly and that was all she wrote. Then it was pandemonium.
“In the fifth set I anticipated it going either way. The fourth set is the one I thought we were going to win, and then it was taken away.”
The teams were tied 23-23 in the fourth set when a Memorial spiker drilled the ball well past the end line, but Merrill was called for touching that ball on a block attempt.
“Absolutely not,” Krug said when asked if MHS had touched it. “The call came from the line judge, not even the official standing over the play.”
Memorial won the fourth set 26-24 to tie up the match at 2-2. Merrill had opened with set wins of 26-24 and 25-20 before the Old Abes pulled out the third set 25-21.
“Eau Claire’s defense was phenomenal,” Krug said. “Rarely did they not get at least a touch on something. So we had to swing to get our points. In practice we stressed we’ve got some offensive weapons and we’ve got to use them.
“We never got hot. We were just playing well enough to win.
“This group of girls is up-and-down, but they don’t give up. We’ve been down nine (points) and battled back. They keep plugging away, one point at a time.”
Contributions came from: Emily Page (5 kills, 57 assists, 9 d); Anna Finnell (23 k, 7 d); Folz (15 k, 2 bl, 8 d); Maddix Bonnell (7 k, 22 d); Chey Pyka (2 ac, 17 d); Ali Zamzow (2 ac, 22 d); Morgan Wardall (6 k, 2.5 bl, 3 d); Katie Zelinski (13 k, 3 d); Morgan Marnholtz (11 d); Mariah Turenne (5 d).
The second-seeded Merrill girls had their work cut out when third-seed Chippewa Falls grabbed the first set of Thursday’s WIAA volleyball sectional semi-final match at Wausau East.
But the young Bluejay squad—with just one senior in the starting line-up – proved as resilient in that high-pressure situation as they had been all year while building to a Valley championship.
They quickly battled back from that initial 25-18 loss with a pair of wins, in 25-20 and 25-17 fashion, to take a 2-1 match lead. Chippewa Falls wasn’t going anywhere, however, battling back with a 25-15 victory to send it to a deciding 15-point fifth set. Merrill put the Cardinals in an early bind with a three-point run, and extended the lead to 11-6. The Jays rode out a rally to within 12-10, and scored three of the final four points for a 15-11 triumph.
“It feels way better than it did last year at this time,” MHS Kris Krug said, remembering a 15-13 fifth-set loss to Chi-Hi in last year’s sectional semi-final. “Chippewa Falls played a great match. The important thing is we kept battling back. Even though we had some miscues and the ball hit the floor way too much, we were able to come back.
“These are high-pressure matches for a young team. I’ve got two freshmen on the court (Maddix Bonnell and Morgan Wardall) and they both played well.”
Falls played a scrappy game and dug everything within reach, but it was no question which squad offered more firepower and even consistency.
“Basically we need to be swinging,” Krug said. “We need to hit the ball, score some points and get the momentum swing going our way. When we get conservative and tipping, then we’re always on defense. When we’re swinging hard, things go our way. We’ve gotta be swinging…swinging, swinging, swinging.
“One thing that was huge for us is we never missed a serve. That is like the first time we’ve ever done that in a five-set match. When it comes to playoff time we talk about how important the serves are. Last year we missed some crucial serves in the fifth set.”
Anna Finnell pounded out 21 kills for the Bluejays (+7 d), and Rylee Folz (11 k, 2 bl, 4 d), Katie Zelinski (11 k, 3 as), Bonnell (7, 22 d) and Wardall (6 k) backed her up. Emily Page offered 52 assists, 3 kills and 10 digs, while Ali Zamzow gave 23 digs and 3 aces. Pyka (13 d), Marnholtz (12 d) and Turenne (3 d) helped out.
Merrill (unranked at 31-7) will face Germantown (at 36-13, a sectional #6 seed) at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in the WIAA State quarterfinals at the UW-GB Resch Center, near Lambeau Field. Germantown upset 3rd-ranked Mukwanago in three sets in the sectional final. The winner plays the victor of top-ranked DSHA (42-4) and 9th-ranked Kimberly (34-10) at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. The finals will be staged at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.
“ ‘You won’t see us coming,’ ” Krug noted. “That’s what the girls picked out for our poster.”