By Nick Beversdorf
Merrill volleyball is progressing nicely through the playoffs, defeating Lakeland on Tuesday and defeating Northland Pines just last night. Both matches saw tough opponents that won the second set, forcing both matches to go to set four. Both times, however, Merrill came to and rallied back for a victory.
On Tuesday, Merrill defeated Lakeland with a final match score of 3-1. Merrill handily won the first set 25-13 but many missed serves and hits contributed to a set two loss of 25-22. Thankfully, Merrill recovered and won the next two sets 25-16 and 25-13 to win the match.
Hitting proved to be a challenge with 21 errors. Morgan Wardall was the top hitter with 18 kills and four errors out of 36 attempts. Katie Zelinski had 11 kills and three errors out of 23 attempts and Maddix Bonnell had six kills and two errors out of 23 attempts. Other hitters included Kaylee Bowe with four kills and four errors out of 20 attempts and Lindsey Casper with four kills out of nine attempts, error-free.
Serving also seemed to be a problem, especially in set two. Casper, Bonnell and Wardall all lead serving with three aces each. Wardall also had three errors out of 15 attempts, Bonnell one error out of 19 attempts and Casper one error out of 20 attempts. Other servers included Kelsie Belfiori with two aces and two errors out of 12 attempts, Kate Peterson with an ace and an error out of 10 attempts and Taylor Cichy with two aces out of 15 attempts, error-free.
Cichy had an incredibly busy time as libero, as many of Lakeland’s serves and hits went right to her. She led passing with 54-15 perfect, 34 good, two okay and three incomplete along with 17 digs.
“Lakeland came to win and we believed we were just going to win,” comments head coach Kristi Krug. “Even if we had 21 hitting errors and nine missed serves. We can consider this a wake up call for what’s to come as we need to raise our level of intensity ten-fold or we will be disappointed.”
With the win, Merrill advanced and faced off against Northland Pines on Thursday night. Merrill won the match 3-1, winning the first set 25-17, losing the second set 25-21 and then winning the next two sets 25-21.
Serving was much improved over the last match but errors continued for hitting, with Merrill garnering 23 hitting errors. For most of the match, Merrill had to fight for every last point, insofar as going point for point with Pines in set four. Thankfully, Merrill was able to stave off any Pines rally in sets three and four, keeping them far enough ahead so that when 25 hit they would win.
Zelinski had 19 kills and four errors out of 35 attempts and Wardall had 13 kills and four errors out of 29 attempts. Other hitters included Bonnell with six kills and two errors out of 20 attempts and Megan Schroder with six kills and four errors out of 19 attempts.
The improved serving was led by Belfiori and Casper with three aces and two errors out of 13 attempts for Belfiori and two aces out of 22 attempts for Casper, error-free. Peterson, Bonnell and Wardall each had an ace and an error as well for serving.
Much like the previous game, Cichy was on fire with passing. She had a total of 45 passes – 13 perfect, 26 good, four okay and two incomplete. She also had a whopping 26 digs.
“This was a big win for us having to battle back after a second set loss and go basically point for point in the fourth set,” adds Krug. “I’m proud of the way we worked as a team tonight and picked each other up when we made mistakes. We knew each match was only going to get tougher and this was a good test for Saturday’s Regional final.”
Merrill will face Medford on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. at Merrill. If (when) they win that match they will advance to the sectional semi-finals where they will face the winner of the West Salem-Neillsville/Granton match on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. at Mosinee.