Spikers rise to challenge for WVC crown
It’s been said “there’s never a dull moment” in the Wisconsin Valley Conference and that’s certainly been the case this fall with prep volleyball.
While the conference certainly has its universal perennial powerhouses such as SPASH and Marshfield, any given team can topple the top-dwellers on any given court, any given field, any given day. And then you have those teams who have- out of sheer grit and determination-carved their own powerhouse niche. Teams who have earned that title after years of battling it out on the hard wood, taking their share of lumps and grinding out their share of close calls. And year after year they defend that title and remind those across the net from them and those observing from the bleachers; why they are considered a powerhouse and why they demand that respect.
Teams like the Merrill Bluejay volleyball squad.
It wasn’t long ago, the ladies took a hard knock on the courts of Wausau-West High School and another at Marshfield High School. Each time, they were given the choice to stay down or fight their way back.
The answer of how they chose to respond now lies in the numbers, as the Jays sit atop the WVC tied with SPASH (8-2) ahead of West (7-3) and Marshfield (7-4). But then again, that’s just how the Bluejays roll.
They get knocked down, but they get up again.
The Bluejays got knocked down in the first conference meet of the year at Marshfield. After a decisive win over Wausau-East and pulling out a grinder over the home-court Tigers, the ladies fell in a five-set shootout with the SPASH Panthers.
And they got knocked down at Wausau-West in mid-September (1-3)
But there wasn’t much of that this past weekend. In fact, the ladies did some knocking around of their own at the second WVC meet of the 2019 season, hosted by Wausau-East.
The first match of the day for the Jays would have them squaring off with Wisconsin Rapids-Lincoln.
While the ladies pulled out a rather convincing 25-12 first set win, the second set wouldn’t quite be as easy going; slipping past the Raiders 25-20. The Jays then topped off their shutout win with a 25-18 triumph in the third set.
Their second go-round on Saturday morning with Wausau-West would prove to be a bit closer, but in the end the Jays would collect on their debt with the Warriors; avenging their Sep. 19 loss to the blue and gold with a decisive 3-1 victory of their own (25-20, 18-25, 25-16, 25-11).
“I couldn’t be more pleased about the outcome on Saturday,” comments head coach Kris Krug.
“We played well as a team and cleaned up some mistakes that we’ve had on our radar. You want your team to peak at the end of the season and it seems that we are starting to figure it out. We know that we have a tough schedule ahead as winning on the road is never easy. DCE and SPASH tend to have a good fan base and will have high energy coming in to the last week of regular season. October is exciting with finding out at the end of this week where we stand in the conference, next week regionals.”
The tournament would yield several powerful performances from Merrill, showing just how loaded and versatile the Bluejay offensive arsenal is this season. Topping the list was Kelly Page, leading the team with 22 kills, a pair of serving aces and 26 digs on the defensive side. Senior Outside Hitter Eve Akey hammered out 18 kills and 16 digs, followed by Ellie Hartson with 16 kills and four serving aces to boot.
Junior Libero Rachel Travis was the Jays’ dig leader with 49 on the day.
Trumping the ‘Jacks
Last Thursday Oct. 10, the Jays took on a scrappy Wausau-East squad at the MHS Field House.
The Lumberjacks got the early jump on Merrill, securing a hard fought 25-19 first-set victory. The Merrill girls would waste no time in squaring up their game, responding with a 25-20 win to tie it up. Set 3 would prove to be another scrappy bout with the ‘Jays prevailing 25-23, but in the home stretch Merrill would prove to have a bit more wind in their sails; dumping the Lumberjacks 25-15 to secure the win.
“We started off with slow energy tonight,” Krug explains.
“We trailed the entierty of set one. It didn’t feel like we could get our offense going. Set two we stopped playing conservatively and started swinging. That’s when our energy really started to pick up. I thought we did a good job of digging up Taylor’s (Taylor Pagel) hitting and getting her off of her game. It was a great win for Merrill volleyball and for our seniors to finish out their last home match.”
Senior Right Sider Riley Smith enjoyed a huge night offensively; firing off 11 kills. Hartson followed with 8, while Riley Mrachek and Page tied with 7, respectively.
Defensively, the Bluejays displayed yet another diverse effort with four difffent athletes tallying double-digit digs. Sophomore Dani Korman enjoyed a season high 21 digs; tying with Travis. Page came up big with 13, followed by Akey with 11, respectively.
Tonight the Jays will hit the road for Weston, to take on the 5th Place D.C Everest Evergreens (2-8) while 2nd place Wausau-West will host SPASH. If Merrill can navigate the Evergreens and the Warriors are able to corral the Panthers, the Bluejays would lay sole claim to the WVC title. If SPASH is successful, the Jays will clash with the cats at Stevens Point Area Senior High to settle the conference championship, Thursday night.