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 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, and Rylee Folz (11), Katie Zelinski (11), Bonnell (7) and Wardall (6) backed her up. Emily Page offered 52 assists and 10 digs, while Ali Zamzow gave 23 digs and 3 aces.
Merrill will face #1 seed Eau Claire Memorial — winner of a four-set match with D.C. Everest earlier in the night at East — in Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. sectional final.
“Now, we’ve got 75 points to get to state and we’re taking it one point at a time,” Krug said.